Overview of the Twelve Links of Dependent Arising
Session Two: Doctrinally Based Unawareness of How Persons Exist
We have been looking at these twelve links of dependent arising, first from the point of view of why we need to learn about them. And we saw that these twelve links describe to us the whole process of how what truly is suffering, the true suffering, the first noble truth comes about; or more fully, how true suffering, the first noble truth, comes about from the true origin or cause of suffering, the second noble truth.
True suffering, what’s truly suffering, is referring to the aggregates, the aggregate factors of our experience of every moment – body and mind and so on – that are tainted, is the term. “Tainted” means that they are received or obtained from the true cause of suffering. This is our unawareness of how we exist. Because they are received from this unawareness, this confusion, they contain this confusion; and if we don’t do anything about it, it’s going to obtain for us more tainted aggregates in future lives, uncontrollably.
On the basis of these types of tainted aggregates, body and mind, we experience the ripening of our karma, which is also created by our confusion, by our unawareness, and activated by our confusion and unawareness. And as a result of our destructive behavior, done obviously out of confusion about how we exist and about cause and effect, we experience the suffering of unhappiness and pain in general, unhappiness specifically.
That unhappiness can be either accompanied by sense cognition of something, like when we see something that we don’t like or we hear or we smell or we taste or we feel something we don’t like, like cold or we physically feel pain. And that unhappiness can also be something which accompanies our mental cognition of something, like when we think of something or remember something that upsets us.
And the karma that we built up from constructive behavior, also gathered on the basis of confusion about how we exist and how you exist. So, “I’m going to be nice to you, because I want you to love me and to appreciate me,” and like that. This ripens into experience of ordinary happiness.
And we saw that ordinary happiness is what’s called “the suffering of change.” It never satisfies and the more and more and more we have, eventually it turns into unhappiness. Like the example of the happiness that we experience while eating chocolate. If it were true happiness, the more chocolate we ate at one sitting, the happier we would become. But obviously, after a certain amount of chocolate that we’ve eaten, our experience of eating more is accompanied by unhappiness.
Again, this ordinary happiness, sometimes called “worldly happiness,” can accompany either a sense cognition, like for instance when we see somebody or hear their voice on the telephone, or smell or eat something, or have a physical sensation. Or it can accompany a mental cognition. When we think about something or remember it, or try to learn something, we might enjoy and feel happy as we are learning something, but if you had to do that for fifteen hours straight, you would soon become quite unhappy about having to continue to do that.
So, these aggregates that we have, these tainted aggregates – body and mind and emotions and so on – are the basis for experiencing these first two types of suffering: suffering of unhappiness and suffering of ordinary happiness. Why? Because these are tainted aggregates. They’re received from this unawareness and they’re mixed with this unawareness. This unawareness activates the old karma and creates new karma that just perpetuates the whole cycle.
And we saw that because of the habits of this unawareness, or if we speak in a more general way, the habits of grasping for impossible ways of existing, that habit causes the mind to project, on the basis of this limited hardware that we have, appearances of impossible ways of existing. And our unawareness is basically: we don’t know that this is false. Because we don’t know, or we think that just the opposite is true, then we have what’s usually called the “grasping for impossible ways of existing.”
The root cause, what’s given here as the first link of the twelve links, is that unawareness. And here, specifically we’re talking about the unawareness of how persons exist, both ourselves and others.
According to some of the tenet systems, our mind projects some impossible way of existing onto persons and an even deeper, more subtle impossible way onto all phenomena, including persons. But to gain liberation you only have to get rid of that first, slightly grosser level of belief in this impossible projection. But according to other systems, you have to understand that the most subtle level of this projection of impossible ways of existing is not referring to anything real and you need that same understanding for gaining either liberation or enlightenment.
But in any case, regardless of which system of philosophical views within Buddhism we follow, still, as we saw yesterday, this unawareness, this confusion, and even this mechanism of projecting these impossible ways of existing – these are not in the nature of the mind, which means that they’re not necessarily there every moment. And we saw that the proof of that is the total absorption on voidness of an arya – and even more deeply, more importantly, when that total absorption is with the subtlest clear light mind.
No need to repeat the details of that. Therefore it is possible to achieve a true stopping of this uncontrollably recurring samsara and the suffering through a true pathway of mind, which is the understanding of voidness, that these impossible ways of existing are not referring to anything real. Voidness means a total absence, that a real referent to all of this garbage just doesn’t exist. When we’re confident of all of that, then that helps us very much to develop this true determination to be free of all of this. This is renunciation based on conviction that it actually is possible to get rid of this by understanding this material.
And we’re also convinced that everybody else can achieve liberation on the basis of these teachings. That helps us to develop not just the type of compassion that says, “Oh, I feel sorry for everybody that’s suffering. I wish that they didn’t have this suffering, but there’s nothing that anybody can do about it.” But rather the compassion that leads us to take responsibility to help them, because we are convinced that there is something that can be done about it and that we can actually help them by showing them the way.
But even if we try to show them the way, others need to be receptive. We have to have a realistic attitude about how much we can actually help others to achieve liberation and enlightenment. If it could be done only by the power of the Buddha himself, he would have done that already.
Now, some of the other Indian non-Buddhist systems assert, as most Indian systems do, they assert a state of liberation and they assert that you have to gain liberation from samsara basically by understanding reality the way that they have described it. And some of these systems say that it is inevitable that everybody will eventually achieve liberation, it’s all heading toward that goal. And we have this in some Western religions as well. But this is not what Buddhism says, although many people misunderstand the Buddhist explanations of Buddha-nature to mean this.
Everybody has Buddha-nature, which means the various factors that are the features of basically the mind and so on, energies that will enable them to achieve liberation and enlightenment. So everybody is capable of that, but that doesn’t mean that everybody will achieve liberation and enlightenment. There’s a big difference between being capable of it and actually doing it. Unless somebody is receptive enough and builds up enough positive force or merit, they’re not going to take interest in the teachings on voidness etc. that will lead to liberation. And even if they try, they won’t be able to understand them.
So that becomes a very interesting question for a debate. We hear that bodhisattvas remain until the end of samsara, until everybody has achieved liberation from samsara. But does that mean, given infinite time, that there’ll be a point when everyone becomes enlightened? Because the question comes up, “Well, then what do we all do when we’re all enlightened?” which, from a Buddhist point of view, is a silly question, an irrelevant question. So you have these cute little debates that come up. For instance, the last sentient being, the last one left, how does this person achieve enlightenment? Because to achieve enlightenment you have to have bodhichitta and that’s based on compassion, wishing others to be free from suffering. But there’s nobody left who’s suffering, so how do they develop compassion, which is necessary for achieving enlightenment?
Translator: Compassion for himself?
Alex: No, that’s renunciation. The answer to that is that Buddhas, out of their compassion, will manifest as suffering beings, so this last person will be able to develop compassion. But that’s a cute trick, isn’t it?
If you think about it more deeply and try to analyze, then although it would seem from these types of discussions that actually there will be a point when everybody will become liberated and enlightened, on deeper analysis that’s not necessarily so. If that were so, then basically you wouldn’t have to do anything, just wait long enough and eventually you’d become liberated and enlightened. And that’s not the case.
So that’s relevant here, because unless we actually understand voidness, as Aryadeva says, there is no other way to liberation than the understanding of voidness. So it’s not just, “Wait long enough and it’ll happen, because everybody will attain liberation and enlightenment.” Even just developing the interest to gain liberation and enlightenment is not something which is inevitable. As I say, this is a topic that actually requires quite a bit of thought, because there are many implications here that are involved. But on a practical level, the implication is that there’s no easy way out. There’s no lazy man’s way out.
The twelve links themselves start with unawareness – I suppose as a warning before we go into this that although there’s a list of twelve and because they are numbered one, two, three, etc., one tends to think that they are linear – they’re not necessarily linear, but it’s described as “links in a chain.” A chain is usually made of rings, isn’t it, that intertwine with each other and if we have a bracelet like that, they form a larger circle. So these twelve links are like parts of these links that intertwine with each other. So it’s not exactly linear, the way that they go together.
The first one is unawareness – that’s usually translated in English as “ignorance.” In some languages we don’t have a problem in terms of a word like “ignorance” as opposed to “unawareness.” I don’t like “ignorance,” because in English that has a connotation of being stupid and this is not a question of whether or not you’re stupid. It’s “unaware”: you just don’t know. In German you don’t have this problem. So, there’s no judgmental quality to it, “You ignorant, stupid jerk. You’re an idiot, you don’t understand this.” It’s not like that. That’s important in terms of not only our attitude toward others, but our attitude toward ourselves.
After all, the whole teaching is based on compassion, not on being judgmental and angry with myself or others that, “I’m an idiot.” “You’re an idiot.” “How could I be so stupid?” Often we have that attitude, particularly about ourselves, “How could I be so stupid? Again I got angry. Again I caused this problem or that problem.” That type of attitude maybe can be a little bit helpful in terms of moving our energy, but usually it creates more problems. Because that attitude usually brings in guilt, “I’m a bad boy,” “I’m a bad girl,” etc. and that has many emotional and psychological consequences that are not so pleasant.
So as we saw, automatically our mind is projecting these appearances of impossible ways of existing, projecting all this garbage, and it feels as though this is what corresponds to reality and – unawareness – we just don’t know that it’s false; it’s very convincing. Or another interpretation of unawareness: it’s not just simply that we don’t know that it’s false, but we believe that it does correspond to reality. So that is: we know it in an inverted way. That’s the terminology that’s used. We think that it does correspond to reality, which is inverted from the fact that it doesn’t correspond to reality.
Now, it’s very significant that the first link here is in terms of unawareness about how persons exist. It’s not unawareness about how phenomena exist in general. And even if we follow the tenet system that says that really to gain liberation, you have to understand that the impossible way that all phenomena exist and the impossible way that persons exist that you have to get rid of to achieve liberation is the same, even if we follow that system, still the emphasis here is on getting rid of the unawareness about persons. That has a very, very big implication in terms of our application of the Buddhist teachings.
Our problem, the real problem, and what we need to focus on in order to gain liberation is not my attachment to my car, or my computer, or chocolate, or something like that. The problem is my attachment to me: “I always have to have what I want,” and my attachment to you, that “You always have to do what I want you to do.” And even when we’re thinking in terms of the problem that I have with my attachment to my computer, car, chocolate, etc., the emphasis here is not on the car or the computer; the emphasis is on me as some solid thing that possesses these things, that “I’m so solid that I can possess things.”
This becomes very interesting and very important in terms of dealing with daily problems. Let’s say we’re trying to do a lot of meditation and there is externally a lot of noise. So, how do we approach that? We could do all sorts of fancy meditations on deconstructing the sound, “It’s just the vibration of air,” and all this sort of stuff, “The perception of it is just a wave on the ocean of the mind.” There’s lots of methods we could use, “This is an obstacle sent by the demon Mara and I will make this little torma cake and send it off to Mara the demon and tell it to stop annoying me.”
You can use that sort of approach. But what is the real problem here? The real problem is this concept of a solid me that should always have the conducive circumstances and that “I should be in control of what’s going on around me.” That’s the problem. Because even if we deconstruct the sound from its side, we’re still left with a me, very strong, that is a little bit uptight, waiting for the next obstacle to come up. So, there’s still this solid me. This is a very helpful point here that helps us to deal with various problems.
Let me give an example from my own experience. A couple years ago a cafe moved in on the ground floor of the apartment building that I live in. And this cafe is extremely popular and it’s open seven days a week from seven in the morning till three in the morning. And when the weather is warm, there’s tables outside, directly underneath all my windows, and people drink and are loud till very early in the morning. So, problem, not so much when I’m working during the day, I can deal with noise then, but problem falling asleep.
So, I could lie in bed and curse the people who are sitting outside enjoying themselves and drinking lots of beer and being loud and laughing. I can do, “Well, this is only sound and so what?” But that doesn’t help me actually to fall asleep. I think you would have to be super-super-advanced for that to have some effect. I could move, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that where I move will be any quieter. All you need is one neighbor who is fond of techno music late at night and that’s the end of your peaceful atmosphere.
So you work on deconstructing the me, that “I have to have it the way I want it,” and “I’m more important than all these people and what I’m doing, meditating and working on my website and doing all these things, is so much more important than these silly people outside who are just drinking and having what they consider a good time.” But if one works on trying to deconstruct this big solid me, then you see, “Well, there are millions and billions of people and everybody is acting under the influences of causes and conditions, and so am I. And there’s nothing special about me or about them, or anything like that.”
So what do you expect? The famous line, “What do you expect from samsara?” Now, on that basis, then if you apply the teaching from lojong, the attitude-training, of “give the victory to the others, accept the defeat onto yourself,” then that works quite well. And so in the summer months I move my mattress into the kitchen, which doesn’t face the street. It’s the only quiet room in the house. And I sleep in the kitchen, on the kitchen floor, for the summer, which is perfectly fine.
But if you just simply give the victory to the others and move into the kitchen without the work on trying to deconstruct this big solid me, then you’re lying in the kitchen thinking, “Oh, I’m so clever and those terrible people are out there drinking and being noisy.” You’re still holding on to a solid me. So, although it helps, you haven’t really gone deeply enough to really start working on the cause of the problem.
This is just an example. I’m chuckling because before applying any method, when you’re lying in bed, then you think of all sorts of medieval days, “I should have a big pot of boiling tar that I can pour down,” and this sort of medieval approach that obviously is not the greatest solution either. But those thoughts go through your head.
So, we have unawareness about how persons exist, both ourselves and others. And again, although it does refer specifically to both ourselves and others, I think the emphasis needs to be first on ourselves. If you think about it from your own experience, if you try to apply these teachings – somebody is not very nice to us or they don’t pay attention to us or they ignore us and they said something or did something that we didn’t like and so on, so we get very angry, “Oh, you did this and I’m very disappointed with you,” and all this sort of stuff.
So, we’re upset with the other person and you say, “Well, who’s the person? Where’s the person? Are they the mind, the body, etc.? It’s just imputed on all these aggregates. And everything that they’re doing and have done is influenced by so many circumstances and causes and their karma and their family and all these sort of things,” so in a sense you deconstruct the other person, “What am I angry with?” And this definitely helps. There’s no question about it. However, if we haven’t applied that analysis to ourselves, then there’s still the solid me inside, “Well, I’ve deconstructed this situation and so I’m not angry.”
But there’s still the me that, “I want to have my friends act the way that I want them to act,” and so we’ve set ourselves up to getting angry at the next situation and the next person. And it’s very interesting, because it’s much less threatening to deconstruct the other person than it is to deconstruct ourselves, isn’t it? So, “OK, I’ll deconstruct you, but here I am,” and “Everybody should love me and everybody should pay attention to me and appreciate me and I should always get my way.” So we’ve left ourselves as the center of the universe and we’re just deconstructing some of the things around us.
So, even though it says here that the unawareness link is unawareness of how persons exist, both ourselves and others, we need to start with ourselves. And we have to deal with the fact that it is painful, it’s threatening, and our habit of grasping for a solid me and our habit of selfishness and self-cherishing is going to put up resistance. Resistance will arise; it’s not as though they’re sitting in there as some heavy force and they’re going to send out this resistance. But the resistance is going to be there, so although we need compassion for ourselves, nevertheless, we need very strong force.
For instance in the lojong, the attitude-training called The Wheel of Sharp Weapons that I know some of you have been listening to my classes on that, then in this text it calls on this very strong force of Yamantaka. That’s the representation of the forceful aspect of discriminating awareness, or wisdom, part of Buddha-nature, that you have to call on this great strength within us to smash through this resistance. Yamantaka is the forceful aspect of Manjushri. And watch out for translations that call these type of figures “wrathful, angry deities,” because then again that brings in a judgmental aspect: they’re angry with us and, “I’m angry with myself,” and so on and that’s not at all the flavor here.
The flavor is just “strong, forceful,” and we are quite capable of being strong and forceful with ourselves. For instance, we might not want to get up in the morning out of bed and we have this alarm clock, that truly is an invention of Mara, on which you can press the snooze button and it will go off again in five minutes. So, you keep on pressing it and pressing it and eventually you have to be forceful with yourself to get up out of bed and go to work. So we are capable of being forceful with ourselves. Otherwise, you just lie there forever, pressing the button every five minutes.
OK, unawareness about how persons exist, how we exist. There are two levels of this. There is the doctrinally based unawareness and the automatically arising unawareness. Doctrinally based is something that we’ve been taught. Specifically, this is referring to having been taught an explanation of how the atman – this is an Indian system – how the atman, how the soul exists; that actually who are you, what’s the person? It’s this soul and there’s a certain description, characteristics of the soul. And it’s not that we would think this up ourselves or automatically think this; somebody had to teach us that and we had to believe it.
And then we identify with this atman, “That is who I really am,” and based on this indoctrination about who we are, how we exist, then we get all sorts of disturbing emotions, “I’m very attached to this view, I’m very defensive of it. Anybody who disagrees with me, I get very angry with. In fact, I’ll go to war over people who believe differently,” etc. So, it can be the basis for what’s called “doctrinally based disturbing emotions,” disturbing emotions based on this belief.
So, we’re familiar, I’m sure, with all of this type of syndrome, religious wars, etc., intolerance, closed-mindedness based on a set of beliefs. And this is referring then specifically to the assertions of the non-Buddhist Indian schools concerning the atman, the self. And even if we haven’t studied any of these Indian systems in this lifetime, nevertheless the commentaries explain that given beginningless time, no beginning, and the fact that these systems have been taught age after age after age with no beginning, then you’d have to say that everybody at some point has been indoctrinated with these thoughts, even though it might not be active in this lifetime.
And even though many of our Western religions – the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam – do assert a soul and a lot of the characteristics of the soul sound quite similar to what’s asserted by these Hindu and Jain systems in India, they [the Buddhist commentaries] are quite insistent that this [doctrinally based unawareness] is referring specifically to the whole package that you get in these non-Buddhist Indian systems. But understanding that the Indian assertions of an atman are not referring to anything real can of course help us to overcome our belief in some of the non-Indian assertions of soul that would have things that are similar, so it’s not unrelated.
So what is exactly this description of an atman, of a soul? It has three characteristics and these three characteristics are all describing the same thing – atman – so in many ways they overlap each other. The first characteristic is usually translated as “permanent.” That’s very misleading. One has to understand that we’re not talking about “eternal,” “forever.” Buddhism says that the conventional “me” is eternal: it has no beginning and no end, so that’s not the problem. The problem is asserting permanent in the sense of “static,” “never changing,” “unaffected by anything,” “Nothing affects me.”
It’s like, I remember once I fell in India in the monsoon rain on slippery concrete and cracked some ribs. And you dissociate, you say, “Well, that’s not affecting me,” there’s a me inside, “I’m not affected by that.” And then you dissociate and you say, “I don’t really want to go on this trip of now having the cracked ribs and the whole recovery and so on,” so you feel that there’s a me that’s not affected by this.
Or I heard recently a description of what it was like to be in the Soviet army. You have all these horrible things that are happening to you, to your body and psychologically and so on, but to protect yourself you feel, “Well, there’s a me inside that’s not affected by this. This is just external,” and so you have some wall, some emotional wall that you put up and, “All of this is happening, but it’s not really affecting me,” and this is the idea here.
The second characteristic is usually translated as “one.” We could understand it as similar to static, which means that it’s always the same, no matter what, “I went to sleep last night and here I am in the morning, the same me. I’m back again, the same me.” But the actual explanation of this characteristic is that it is a partless monolith, that the atman has no parts. It’s a monolith that is either the size of the universe, like atman is Brahma, so this big undifferentiated monolithic thing, or in some of the theories it’s a tiny little spark, like a spark of life.
That’s the partless atman, partless me. So now we start to get a little bit of the flavor that this is really something that someone had to teach you, that you have a soul that is the size of the universe, a monolith, partless, never changes, this type of thing, and your individuality and so on is just an illusion – this is maya.
And the third characteristic is that this atman is something which is totally independent of aggregates, of a body and mind, which means that it’s like something that goes into a body and mind and then comes out and then goes into another one – but in its own state, by itself it’s completely dissociated from any sort of basis, a body and mind. And usually when they say you’re liberated, then it just exists like that, totally without any body or mind.
Some of the theories say that that atman with these characteristics of “unaffected by anything,” “is a partless monolith,” and “independent,” has a quality of awareness from its own side. And other theories, other systems say that it doesn’t have the quality of awareness, but when it comes into a body, it sort of connects to a brain and a mind and then it’s aware of things. So there are many, many logical problems, inconsistencies, contradictions, and so on that follow from this type of assertion of an atman, that that’s who we are.
And it’s important to not just think as Westerners, “Well, these stupid Indians believe like this,” and “OK, interesting to refute this, but what does that have to do with me and my emotional setup, profile?” But as I said, although you had to be doctrinally taught the whole system, we do have certain aspects of these beliefs, if you really look into it – like, for instance, that there’s a me that’s totally independent of a body and mind. And so you think, and this is an example that His Holiness the Dalai Lama uses, you see somebody else and, “I wish I could change bodies with you,” or, “I wish I had your intelligence,” as if somehow this me could leave this body and mind and now be you.
And more relevant is that when we receive all these teachings about the clear light mind and “it’s pure with no beginning” and stuff like that, then it’s very easy to misconceive of that clear light mind, that continuum to exist like a Hindu atman. Of course Buddhism says it’s eternal, so you think, “Well, it never changes. Its stainless nature never changes.” Well, sure the stainless nature never changes, but it has a different object each moment. So it changes from moment to moment, but we think, “It never changes, is not affected by anything, doesn’t have any parts and it goes into one body after another,” like that.
Hey, this is atman, Hindu atman. “And even as a Buddha, my enlightened clear light mind will go into a body, this thing made of elements and so on, and then operate it as an emanation.” This is a misconception and one that is very, very easy to fall into, if we haven’t really worked on the refutation of this doctrinally based false me, this atman. So, watch out for that. A lot of people fall to this misconception.
What does Buddhism say? What Buddhism says – and this is all traditions, all schools, Hinayana, Mahayana, India, Tibet, whatever – is that there is a conventional “me,” a self, a person, but it is something which is imputed on the aggregates. So you have to understand what that means. Although it may be difficult to express the word “imputation” in some languages, like your language Latvian, it’s not quite the same as “projection.” “Projection” somehow gives the connotation that it’s false, and this is not false. We’re talking about labeling.
So, labeling, for instance, “motion.” What’s motion? When we look at our hand, all you can see is one nanosecond at a time. And so this nanosecond, I see my hand here; next nanosecond the hand is here; the next nanosecond it’s there, there, there, there, there. What’s motion? Motion is what’s labeled, what’s imputed onto this series of perceptions. You don’t see motion all at once in one moment, do you? But you do see motion. So it’s not just a projection of a fantasy. This is what we’re talking about here. There is motion, isn’t there?
So, likewise we have a series of moments, nanoseconds, that are made up of the aggregates, these factors of experience – perception and objects perceived and body and emotions and all these sort of things – moment to moment to moment to moment, made up of all these different parts. And just as we would label “motion” to these nanoseconds in a sequence of a hand being in different positions, likewise we label, or “impute” is usually the word, we label “me” onto this sequence of moments of experience made up of the aggregates. So in a sense it’s a way of putting it together.
And each moment of course is generated by a karmic cause and effect sequence of what came before. But it’s not existing in isolation, because what’s perceived is also affected by what everybody else is doing, what’s happening with everybody else in the universe, etc. And that “me” or person labeled onto these aggregates, it’s not just the word “me,” that’s a word. It’s not the aggregates themselves, but it’s what the word refers to on the basis of the aggregates.
I’m not my body. If I were my body, then if I lose my hand, then it’s no longer me? No, it can’t be like that. And I’m not my mind. As I grow older and I lose parts of my memory, then does that mean it’s no longer me? No, it’s not like that. And so “me” is not identical with any of the aggregates, the body or the mind or any of its parts, and it’s not something separate from it, completely independent from it. We don’t experience, “The body is cold, but I’m not cold,” “The stomach is hungry, I’m not hungry.” We don’t experience things like that.
The “me” isn’t always the same. It has parts. Sometimes it’s like this, in this phase of life, that phase of life, this aspect, my social life, my professional life, all these sort of things. So there’s parts, it’s affected by things, and so on. It’s not separate. It’s not identical to the aggregates and it can’t possibly exist separately from any aggregates like, “After I die there is just me with no basis of a mind or a body or anything like that.”
Because Buddhism says, and then we get to this thing of the clear light mind, or there’s many different ways of explaining it, but what continues from lifetime to lifetime, the “me” is imputed on that; it’s labeled on the clear light mind. The “me” isn’t identical with the clear light mind; it is a basis for labeling “me.” So there’s always a basis, there’s always some aspect of body, mind, subtlest energy, whatever. It’s always something which is labeled or imputed on a continuity, a continuum, an everlasting continuum, no beginning, no end, not separate from a basis for labeling. That’s the Buddhist view.
And there are further qualifications here of this doctrinally based me, this false me. And that is that we imagine that there’s this entity, me, atman, that somehow comes into a body and mind and lives there. This is it’s home. So a feeling that this is the home of the atman, this body and mind, it possesses it – like now I possess a cow or a car and I go into it, or a house – and that it uses it, makes use of it to walk here and there, to pick up things, to communicate and so on. That’s the larger package here of the misconception. And we often tend to think like that, don’t we?
Many people experience terrible, terrible pain, like, for instance, when they have terminal cancer or even just experiencing extreme old age. I have an aunt who is ninety-five, an uncle who is ninety-seven and the experience and the view is like, “I am trapped inside this prison.” The body is a prison with this pain and the old age. You can’t even walk. You can’t even do anything. You can’t even read or whatever, because your eyes are no good and this is a prison. And the conception that the me can somehow get out of that and exist by itself, that it’s living inside this house, which has now become a prison.
So this is a misconception. And we can have all sorts of disturbing emotions based on believing that, “This is me.” “This is my body. I am the possessor of a body.” “I am the possessor of this space around me, don’t violate my space.” This type of attitude. There are so many disturbing emotions that can come up, not just, “Let’s go out and make a religious war based on this belief.”
What we need to do then is to examine this type of misconception with logic, to see – is this logically consistent, is it self-contradictory, and so on – to realize that this is impossible: nobody, nothing could exist with these characteristics. And the more that we are convinced that there’s no such thing, eventually we stop believing in it. It doesn’t happen immediately. It’s a long process. It’s like, basically we don’t want to believe that there’s no such thing.
A good example is that you can’t find your keys and you look every place where it could possibly be and it’s not there. But you really don’t want to accept that you lost your keys, so you look again and again and again. And it takes a while before you give up and accept the fact that, “I’ve lost my keys. I’m locked out of the house.”
But you have to know what your keys are in order to know that, “I don’t have them,” don’t you? It’s like in order to know “not an apple,” you have to know “apple.” “This is not an apple.” How do I know that this thing here, which is a glass, is not an apple? If I didn’t know what an apple was, how could I possibly think that this is not an apple?
And so in order to really work on and get rid of this unawareness, you have to recognize what is this misconception. Only if you’ve recognized it, and not just recognized it in some theoretical way, but recognized it in yourself, at least some of the remnants of it, that then it is much more significant that, “There is no such thing.”
And, as I say, one needs to really work for quite a long time on this. It’s not so easy. But this refutation through analysis is very, very important. Let me use an example, it’s not exactly analogous, but often we think, “Nobody loves me.” Well, if you analyze “nobody loves me,” that means “...including my dog, including my mother, including my entire life there had to be absolutely nobody who loved me.” Well, this is ridiculous. It’s hardly likely that there’s anybody that has experienced like that.
So then, the more you focus on that, although it might feel like “Nobody loves me,” you understand that this is not so, “That’s not referring to anything real.” The problem is that we think that, “Well, that doesn’t count that my dog loves me and my mother loves me, that doesn’t count. I want you to love me!” And then we have to work on this false concept of the solid you and the solid me. It’s interesting how our mind works, isn’t it?
OK, so that’s the doctrinally based unawareness and actually it’s this link that we have to understand the most deeply, because this is what we really have to get rid of. Then the whole thing falls apart. But just to get rid of this doctrinally based unawareness, that’s certainly not enough to bring liberation. We have to get rid of the automatically arising one that even dogs have, that everybody has. But first you have to get rid of all the garbage that you’re believing in based on indoctrination. Once you get rid of that, then you can start working on more subtle levels.
And I think many of you might know this from your own experience. If you’ve been brainwashed with propaganda – and this could happen in any culture, any situation – that first you have to clear your mind of this, “This is absolute garbage,” before you can deal with more universally common, shared human problems. And it doesn’t help to think, “How stupid I was to have believed that propaganda.” That doesn’t help, but just in a very emotionally nonjudgmental way to realize, “Well, this was garbage and now let’s clear that out and go ahead.”
And the important thing of course is, although it’s not definitional doctrinally based unawareness, to try not to come under the influence of all sorts of propaganda schemes. Like, for instance, modern advertising that “If you buy this, then all the girls will love you,” or this type of nonsense. That just encourages desire, greed, attachment. The kind of car that you drive makes you more or less sexy? This is absurd.
OK, so let’s break here for lunch and then we’ll continue with the automatically arising form of unawareness. This is the real one that we have to get rid of in order to gain liberation. But as I said and I underline this: you can’t just work on the automatically arising one without first having worked on this doctrinally based one. And the reason within the Buddhist context is that without dealing with this doctrinally based one, it is so easy and so many people fall into this trap of making clear light mind, for instance, into a Hindu atman. So you have to be careful of that and deal with this.
So let’s end with a short dedication. Whatever positive force, whatever understanding we’ve gained, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all.
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