A blog on the Transpersonal Psychology of Indian Yoga and the Spiritual Genius of India (another blog of the same author – www.integralmusings.wordpress.com)
The Cycle of Suffering
The Buddhist psychology is arranged around three distinct clusters of concepts and the associated terminology. First is the famous formula of “dependent origination,” paticca-samuppada, which runs like this: Ignorance Avija – activity Sankara – consciousness Vignana – name and form Namarupa – sense contact phassa – feeling Vedana – craving Tanha – clinging Upavana – becoming – rebirth – suffering.
Each factor is considered as the cause of and the condition for the succeeding factor. For example sense contact, phase, is the principle condition for feeling, Vedana, and feeling is the potential condition for Craving Tanha. The other important concept in Buddhist Psychology is khandhas which are supposed to constitute the human personality or individuality. They are the body sarira, feeling vedana, perception sanna, activities sankara and consciousness vignana. And the third very frequently used term in Buddhist psychology is chitta which is translated as `Mind’. But this is one of those terms which can be interpreted in different ways.
Avija: The Source of Ignorance
The first factor in the cycle of causation is Avija Ignorance. But this Buddhist term has a very different meaning and significance from the corresponding term Avidya in Hindu philosophy. In Hindu philosophy Avidya or Ignorance means the state of forgetfulness of the knowledge of unity, or a “fall” from the consciousness of the oneness of the eternal self to the status of separative consciousness of the Ego. But in Buddhist psychology Avija is defined as : “Not understanding suffering, its origin, its cessation and the way leading to the cessation of suffering” a or in other word we may say, lack of insight into the human condition or the true nature of life which according to Buddhist view is an ocean of impermanence and suffering. But if we can push our enquiry into the cycle of causation a little further back and ask “what is the cause of ignorance or the lack of insight into the true nature of life or the cause of suffering ” we may perhaps get a mare scientific and psychological understanding of the term Avija.
What then is the cause of ignorance or lack of insight? The answer is Unconsciousness. Consciousness is the source of all knowledge, understanding and insight. To become fully and comprehensively conscious of all that is within and around us is the path shown by Buddha towards insight and enlightenment. It is this process or discipline of becoming fully, clearly and comprehensively conscious of the whole process of the bodily and mental life which Buddha called as Mindfulness Satipathana. For example, in his discourses on Mindfulness Buddha says” a monk when standing knows ‘I am standing.’ When sitting he knows ‘I am sitting.’ When lying down he knows ‘I am lying down’; Perfect Mindfulness means every activity of the body and psyche becomes fully conscious. And such a perfect mindfulness was considered by Buddha as one of the marks of a spiritually enlightened being. The Buddhist term for Ignorance Avija refers probably to a state of consciousness – or rather unconsciousness – exactly opposite to that of perfect mindfulness And most of us live in such a state of ignorance or unconsciousness.
It is now understood and accepted in modern psychology that the conscious parts of our being is only a small part of our being. But ancient Indian Yogic psychology always held the view that consciousness of our total being is a multi-dimensional spectum of which the conscious parts of our surface being is only a thin band. The rest of it extends immeasurably in other dimensions – down below into the subconscious, deep behind into the subliminal and up above into the superconscious. But we are not aware of this deeper, hidden and higher dimensions of our consciousness. We live in a small fragment of our total being and even this fragment we are not fully and continuously conscious of what is happing within it and what are the forces which move it from above, behind, below, within or around it. And whatever little consciousness we possess in this fragment is sustained by a constant stimulation of sensations, feeling and thoughts. If this stimulation is not there we will loose even this tiny little consciousness we possess and slip into our subconscious being.
Sankara: Strivings of Ignorance
The second factor in the cycle of dependent causation is sankara or “activity”. This factor was defined in the Buddhist texts as “six forms of purposeful striving: striving for form, for sound, for smell, for taste, for touch, for mental images”; three types of activity are distinguished” activity of the body, mind and speech” And Avija or Ignorance is said to be the origin and the potential condition for Sankara or “activity”. But how? Here also there are two possible interpretations. The nature of Avija or ignorance is defined as lack of understanding of the source of suffering or in other word lack of insight into the true nature of life as an impermanent, even-changing and sorrowful flame of being and its causes and the way out. As a result of this lack of understanding or “ignorance” there is a constrance striving of the energies of the body, mind and senses towards possession and enjoyment of the life, not knowing that both the objects and enjoyments which life can offer are subject to the eternal law of impermanence and sorrow and therefore pass away and end in drops of tears. This is a rather metaphysical interpretation which has its validity. But more psychological interpretation which does not contradict but complements this metaphysical explanation is possible. Let us examine from this psychological perspective how the cycle of human life.
We can get a clue to this process when we observe carefully the process by which we emerge from sleep when we wake up. When we observe very carefully the process by which the faculties of our consciousness become consciously active we will notice four basic “activities” powers or functions of consciousness which form the four khandhas of Buddhist psychology. First there is the bare awareness of just “knowing” the existence, sensation experience of whatever that comes or happen within the field of awareness. This is the major function of one of the khandhas of the Buddhist psychology: Vingana translated as “consciousness”. In the famous Buddhist text Milinda patha, the king Milinda asks the Buddhist monk, Nagasena. “What is the characteristic mark of Vingana”, Nagasena answers “knowing, O, King” and explains further “As a watchman in the city would know someone was coming, whichever direction he came from; so when man sees an object, hears a sound, smells an adour, tastes a savour, feels a touch or knows an idea; it is by consciousness he know it” (15). In the Buddhist thought this awareness is not something static but dynamic, a moving stream of consciousness pervading and moving along with all the energies and activities of the body and mind.
After this bare act of awareness comes the act of recognition or perception sanna by which we distinguish between various object by its unique types, geneva, species, quality. Again in Milinda Patha, Nagasena describes the characteristic mark of sanna or perception as “Recognising… of blueness, yellowness, redness”. In other word perception means recognition of the “name and form” or namarupa of the object, not only the objects of the outer world but also of the inner world. Another Buddhist text define sanna as” perception of form, sound, smell, taste, touch and ideas” (16).
When the object is thus known and recognised and if it catches the further interest and attention of our consciousness, then there is the “reaching towards” it by the mind and sensationses salayatana, for contact with the object, phassa. Here also, we must note that in the Buddhist psychology mind is considered as the sixth sense and the “contact” phassa includes not only the contact of the five sense-organs with the corresponding objects of the outer world but also contact of the mind with the “mind-objects” of the inner world. In this stage, consciousness has emerged fully awake from the subconscious condition of sleep. According to Buddhist psychology this process happens innumerable times everyday. As we have said already, in most of us, it is the constant stimulation of sensational and perceptual impressions and our reactions to them in the form of thoughts and seeings which constitutes and sustains our conscious self.
Vedana: The Hook of Bondage
After this comes the most crucial phase in the psychological process we are describing so far. Here comes the fatal point in which human beings get trapped in the net of Mava. When the consciousness comes into contact with the object, there arises the “feelings” of the object vedana. In Buddhist psychology sanna and vedana, “perception” and “feeling” are described as the activities of the mind Chitta Sankara. If this feeling is pleasant than there comes the desire or craving, tanha, to experience, enjoy and possess the object. This craving develops into clinging attachment Upavana and from then on the consciousness of the individual is helplessly trapped in the cycles of Samsara following endlessly the tragedy of life in a merry-go-round of rebirth and sorrow and despair. From the yogic point of view this stage in which the feeling develops into craving is the crucial point for breaking the cycle of sorrow and escape from it. It we can prevent “feeling” from developing into “craving” then the cycle is broken and escape becomes easy. This is one of the aims of Buddhist yoga. But to understand clearly this point of applied psychology we have to understand the meaning given to the term vedana translated as “feeling” in Buddhist psychology.
The Vedana in Buddhist psychology does not mean emotions; Vedana refers to a primitive state of bare sensations felt as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral raising from the contact of consciousness with the object. Emotions are a later development when mind with its thought and memory works upon this sensations and creates something complex, disturbing and troublesome psychological moods like love and hate and jealously etc.
Vedana are purely instinctive vital feelings whereas emotions are more mentalised moods. According to Buddhist psychology, when first consciousness breaks-out from the subconscious, in this primitive state of awareness, there is only bare attention which consists of an initial “taking notice” and “turning towards” the object. When this primitive state of awareness comes into contact with an object there raise the bare feeling in the form pleasant, unpleasant and neutral sensations. In this state of primitive awareness there is no craving; there is only a passive registering of the feelings and impression as they raise and pass away within the field of awareness. In the terminology of Hindu psychology it is a state of tamasic awareness in which rajasic desire is dormant and potential but not consciously manifest and active. Emotional craving and attachment develops with the manifestation of rajasic desire.
Vedanta and Mindfulness
Buddhist yoga uses the techniques of Mindfulness to prevent feeling, vedana from developing into craving tanha. This yogic state of mindfulness is of the same nature as the bare primitive tamasic awareness we have described earlier but on a much higher level. In tamasic awareness there is only a passive and helpless subjection to the feeling and impression. When this tamasic awareness manifests rajas, there begins an active involvement and identification with rajasic desire with its craving and attachment and all the positive and negative — mostly the later emotions which raise from it. In yogic mindfulness, consciousness raises beyond of helpless tamasic passivity and the active identification of rajasic desire to a state of detached and objective Awareness which leads to Insight that brings the cessation of craving. These are some of the central psychological insights behind the Buddhist discipline of mindfulness, which is a core practice of Buddhist Yoga.