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Lions Roar : March 2017
Concept The developmental process of ego hardens further with the fourth skandha: “concept” or “mental formation.” With concept, we now have a name for the kind of person Mr. Smith is—“good, pleasing”—and a series of names—“bad, unpleasant”—for the kind of person Mr. Jones represents to us. This is the realm of story lines and ideologies. This is the dual- istic aspect of mind that we call “false intellect”—using fixed conceptual categories to identify ourselves and others. In this realm of distorted insight, we begin cleverly deceiving ourselves based on snap judgments, clouded intuitions, yesterday’s news: “Oh, I see now: I’m this kind of person and you’re that kind of person. So we couldn’t possibly be friends. Good-bye!” At this stage, we have developed sophisticated interpreta- tions of ourselves and our experience, far beyond the basic “yea” and “nay” of feeling. This is the dimension of psycho- logical explanations: “I am this kind of person, because that happened before.” Again, this is not to deny the power of previous causes and conditions in shaping the beings we have become. But the temptation is to solidify the flowing water of fresh insight into the frozen ice of fixed mental ideas. I repeat to myself over and over again—and to whoever is willing to listen—old stories of who I am, who I was, and who I am becoming (as well as who you are and why you’re that way). We leave the spacious, open humility of not-knowing far behind and take shelter in a thicket of concepts. Ouch! Consciousness Finally, we discover the mental experience of the fifth skandha, “consciousness.” The accumulated momentum of the initial mind–body split, the positive or negative felt sense of others, Insight into how your mind works is not an end in itself. The teachings on the five skandhas invite you into a deeper, more intimate experience of yourself. Above: Song, 2008, forged ball bearings, photographed by Stephen White. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2017 54