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How Do We Create Our Actuality?

In line with Yogacara, or “mind-only” teachings, every part we expertise is a assemble of consciousness. Guo Gu explains the way it all works.

A man with a teal shirt wearing virtual reality goggles. He is smiling.

Photograph by Kseniia Zaitseva.

We’ve by no means actually skilled issues as they’re. We’ve solely ever skilled issues as we think about them to be. Briefly, we stay in a simulated world, and our perceptions are principally invalid, caught in a loop created by our consciousness. This isn’t to say that the world doesn’t exist; it’s simply that we’ve by no means lived in it. That’s the radical instructing on the coronary heart of Yogacara (pronounced Yogachara), an influential Indian Mahayana faculty often known as Cittamatra, or Consciousness-Solely.

Yogacara just isn’t involved with whether or not there are actual issueson the market.” As an alternative it’s involved with the best way we reify and solidify experiences into discrete issues that we understand as everlasting and separate from us. It factors out that our modes of notion are inherently biased. We habitually scale back every part to topic and object, self and dharmas, me and different, resulting in false narratives that turn out to be ingrained inside us.

Subsequently, it doesn’t matter what we expertise, every part is a assemble of consciousness.

In Yogacara, consciousness is split into eight layers. The primary 5 are sensory “consciousnesses” (consider them as cognitive moments) that come up on the premise of our eyes, ears, nostril, tongue, and physique. The sixth consciousness, manovijnana, is that which arises within the college of thoughts or mind. It has the power to conceive, discriminate, and picture. The seventh consciousness, referred to as manas, acts because the self-referential tendency (me and I) that mediates or filters all sensory experiences. The eighth is alayavijnana (often known as alaya), or storehouse consciousness—the repository of all psychological imprints and karmic seeds primarily based on previous actions of physique, speech, and thoughts.

We’re caught in a simulated world created by our consciousness. However there’s a approach out.

In line with Yogacara, karmic seeds or imprints from previous actions have actual substance. That’s as a result of they form the best way we expertise seeing, listening to, smelling, tasting, and touching within the current and future. The 5 sense colleges—eyes, ears, nostril, tongue, and physique—have actual substance and performance as nicely. They’re the outcomes of previous karma and are mediated by the alaya. Lastly, what Yogacara calls the “container” or “receptacle”—the sensory world during which we stay—has actual substance. It’s the fruition of our karma—actually, actions infused with intent which can be saved within the alaya and later karmically externalized into psychological and bodily phenomena.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter what we reify—whether or not it’s actual (from the alaya), imagined (from the mano), or considerably actual however skewed by self-centered biases (from the manas)—it doesn’t exist exterior of the mediation of consciousness.

Yogacara dismantles the issues we reify by exhibiting how the totally different layers of our consciousness themselves are in a continuing state of externalization, projection, and objectification. The technical time period in Yogacara is “transformations” (Skt., parinama), of which there are three sorts:

1. the fixed ripening of alaya that initiatives karmic imprints into current and future psychological and bodily realities;

2. the self-referential manas that adheres to the alaya and regards it as itself and initiatives the sense of me, I, and mine onto all experiences;

3. the cognizing six consciousnesses that mediate our experiences physiologically or neurologically, most frequently falsely.

Abnormal individuals are caught on this ever-evolving loop of transformations. Whether or not it’s the issues we reify or the consciousnesses that reify them, we stay in our personal constructed actuality by which we’re each merchandise and the producers of our personal expertise.

One other approach Yogacara dismantles our greedy of issues is to look at the very nature of notion itself. If all issues are constructs of consciousness, what about our perceptual expertise? Is that actual? Widespread sense tells us that seeing is believing. Every of us is so satisfied that what we understand is actual. But those that watch Fox Information and those that watch CNN stay in fully totally different perceptual worlds.

Yogacara teaches that consciousness at all times experiences issues not directly, by the mediation of “facets” (Skt., akara), or perceptual photos, marks, or indicators. In different phrases, not solely are issues constructed by consciousness, but additionally, what we understand are by no means really the issues themselves.

This instructing is analogous to fashionable neuroscientists’ notion that what we expertise as sight, for instance, is definitely a simulation by the visible cortex of the mind. When mild from an exterior object impinges on our visible receptors, solely 10 % of the data contained within the visible stimulus—of what we expect we’re seeing—is required to ensure that the mind to assemble an inside picture or illustration of it. The opposite 90 % of that picture is the results of simulations produced by the mind’s personal actions. That’s, 90 % of the thing we “see” is made up! It’s merely the approaching collectively of electrochemical indicators which then work together with our inside recollections and cognition in a posh community of neuropathways. All the things is occurring inside this cranium. We’ve got by no means really seen the world “on the market.” That is true for all senses. Briefly, we’re caught in a simulated world created by our consciousness.

As radical as this may occasionally sound, there’s a approach out of this loop. Yogacara encourages us to domesticate true, “legitimate perceptions” (Skt., pratyaksa). They’re sensory, psychological, self-cognizant, and yogic. “Legitimate” right here means it’s nondeceptive and direct, with out conceptualization. Technically, the primary three are practices; solely the fourth, yogic notion, is taken into account woke up or true liberated notion.

Legitimate Sensory Notion

Legitimate sensory notion refers back to the preliminary second of our expertise of sight, sound, odor, style, and contact. Our consciousness doesn’t apprehend “exterior” objects instantly with out an middleman course of. Since Yogacara just isn’t involved with whether or not there are actual issues on the market, legitimate visible notion just isn’t in regards to the expertise of seeing in any respect, however moderately the direct experiencing of the “facet” of sight, a priori to the ideas we impute on the factor. This facet is a property of sense consciousness, not of the exterior factor itself.

In apply, we are able to domesticate legitimate notion by participating in what Chan identifies as “direct contemplation” (Chn., zhiguan). It’s referred to as “direct” as a result of this notion is with out distortion, fabrication, or conceptualization. Contemplation right here means “experiencing” moderately than reflecting or considering in any approach.

Take seeing a tree, for instance. What we’re considering or experiencing is the facet of the tree earlier than the label “tree” comes into being. Yogacara acknowledges a stage earlier than the visible cortex simulates an object. That is an instantaneous quickening of notion that’s not but a full-fledged illustration or idea (on this sense, it’s totally different from what neuroscience identifies as inside picture or illustration). Direct contemplation can be the experiencing of tree earlier than the psychological illustration happens.

The foundational instructing of the 5 skandhas can assist to clarify what is supposed by the direct contemplation of legitimate sensory notion. In Buddhism, what constitutes a human being are the 5 aggregates, or skandhas: type, sensation, conception, volition, and consciousness. Yogacara’s notion of “facet,” within the scheme of the 5 skandhas, is definitely one of many finer dimensions of sensation (the grosser expertise of sensation can be the uncooked consciousness of sensation as nice, disagreeable, or impartial). When this sensation is processed by our higher-order mind constructions, then the facet turns into conception. When it’s interpreted by ideas, the facet turns into a full-fledged visible illustration—it is a “tree.” The notion is now not recent. Then, volition occurs after we act primarily based on conception and create all types of karma.

For most individuals, this facet happens so quick that there isn’t any strategy to think about what I’m speaking about. Seasoned meditators, nonetheless, ought to have had some expertise with this direct, unmediated, nonconceptual experiencing. In Chan apply, direct contemplation is a strategy to maintain this expertise with a purpose to notice the vacancy of notion.

Legitimate Psychological Notion

Legitimate psychological notion arises nearly concurrently with sensory notion, and each come up instantly previous to conceptualization (the third of the 5 skandhas) of the factor we’re perceiving. In line with Buddhism, true and sustained legitimate psychological notion is the notice of one other individual’s frame of mind, as in clairvoyance or thoughts studying. This notion is simply out there to those that have attained deeper states of samadhi, or meditative absorption. For many practitioners, the one legitimate psychological perceptions that happen are people who happen for terribly temporary moments instantly after true sense perceptions.

For instance, after we keep in mind, think about, or dream a couple of sight, sound, odor, style, or contact, the thing of our cognition is an thought or psychological illustration of the corresponding sense object. This psychological illustration is already an idea, already a full-fledged assemble that we’re producing with our minds. Nevertheless, a naked psychological notion is a nonconceptual psychological facet created by the equipment of our thoughts/mind. Which means when a picture seems in our thoughts, for an immediate we have now a legitimate psychological notion of that picture. Then we shortly conceptualize it and grasp onto it, thereby making our notion invalid.

Legitimate Self-Cognizant Notion

The third sort of notion is legitimate self-cognizant notion. That is just like what Western philosophers name apperception, particularly, the data that we have now of our personal psychological states. Nevertheless, it’s totally different from apperception in that self-cognizant notion just isn’t data however moderately an intuitive and reflexive experiencing of our interior psychological states. Its perform is to know our personal psychological actions, corresponding to craving or aversion. That’s, we all know when starvation or greed is arising in us and we don’t instantly determine with these states—we merely know they’re there.

The above three kinds of notion could also be legitimate, naked, or direct, however for most individuals the occasion of legitimate notion is adopted by subsequent cognition and inattentive cognitions. All moments of consciousness undergo these three phases. The primary second is at all times a pristine, naked notion, with out conceptualization—it’s recent and direct, corresponding to nonconceptual experiencing of a tree. The second known as subsequent notion, which is a unbroken replica of the identical apprehension of a tree. It’s now not recent (except we have interaction in direct contemplation) as a result of we’re conceptually creating the tree in our thoughts. The final second is inattentive notion, when our consideration drifts away from the tree to one thing else. Inattentive cognition occurs after we have interaction in direct contemplation of a tree however we additionally discover birds flying by and different issues.

Legitimate Yogic Notion

The ultimate sort of legitimate notion is yogic notion, which is rarely inattentive. This happens within the mind-stream of an individual who’s both within the state of awakening or is totally woke up. An individual could have had an expertise of awakening however could not at all times be in that state—self-grasping could return. A totally woke up individual is at all times within the state of yogic notion.

Legitimate yogic notion arises from prajna, or selfless knowledge, and with it, one perceives the impermanence of the 5 skandhas, the vacancy of self, and so forth. Inside this selfless knowledge, one continues to perform usually on the earth, which Chan calls “wondrous existence,” responding to causes and circumstances.

For individuals who have had real awakening, even when they don’t seem to be presently within the state of awakening, they’re almost certainly in a position to maintain a point of attentive yogic notion in every day life. I say “almost certainly” as a result of some individuals’s expertise of selfless knowledge is so shallow and short-lived that it has no actual impact on their lives; it’s extra like a short lived absence of self-grasping. With out diligent apply, such an expertise stays a mere reminiscence. It’s like not having the expertise in any respect, and it’s positively attainable for these individuals to be inattentive in every day life. They will even break precepts and hurt others. Why? As a result of when self-grasping is current, craving, aversion, and ignorance are additionally current.

The precise apply of direct contemplation by sight or sound, for instance, is fairly simple, and I often lead this apply outside in a pure setting. You start by sitting stably, as you usually would, after which undergo the strategy of progressive leisure. As soon as you might be grounded and relaxed, you select an object that’s regular and clear—say, a tree, or the regular sound of a flowing stream or an air-conditioning vent. If you happen to select a sound that’s continually altering, like birds chirping, classical music, and so forth, it might be tougher to go deeply into the strategy as a result of when the varied sounds cease, your methodology is gone too. It’s finest to stick with a comparatively fixed sound. Chorus from utilizing phrases, labels, or ideas to determine the sound—let it’s what it’s with an open coronary heart. Let the sound come to you; don’t deal with it intensely. The hot button is experiencing. This methodology is extra of an open consciousness methodology, versus single-minded focus. In time, the sound itself will drop away, leaving you with simply experiencing with out obvious sense of topic or object. This can be a state of oneness. When this oneness drops away, topic and objects, self and dharmas, perceiver and issues vanish—that is awakening. Is there simply nothing? No. All the things is there; it’s simply that greedy and self-referentiality is absent. When awakening is let go of, that is thorough awakening.


For extra on the strategy of direct contemplation, see Guo Gu’s forthcoming e book, Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Pure Awakening (Shambhala Publications, 2021)


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