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Lions Roar : March 2017
and the labels of ourselves and our world culminates in a vivid display of emotions and thoughts. This skandha is the familiar stream of consciousness that we experience in everyday life, our mind-stream. Buddhist psychol- ogy breaks it down into eight separate consciousnesses. In addi- tion to the familiar sense consciousnesses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, Buddhist psychology adds a sixth sense consciousness of “minding.” Just as visual consciousness notices sights and auditory consciousness attends to sounds, this sixth consciousness of mind attends to thoughts and emotions. It also synthesizes and integrates the experience of the other consciousnesses into a coherent whole, like a skillful film editor coordinating image, sound, and discursive commentary. Underlying these six sense consciousnesses, we may sometimes glimpse two more consciousnesses: a winding, subconscious stream of conflicting emotions and anxiety (the klesha, or “nuisance con- sciousness”) and even a hazy background awareness (the alaya, or “storehouse consciousness”) that we sometimes look back toward and call “I.” These underground currents are great instigators, bub- bling up occasionally with old resentments and jealousies, fixated passions, and strongly motivated denials. The skandha of consciousness completes the development of a deluded ego-sense. We now feel separate, independent, and unitary—even though there is ample evidence to the contrary. We are not separate from our environments. If we were, how could we breathe, eat, drink, sustain ourselves? Where did the language we speak and write and read come from? None of us is self-produced and independent, as our mothers and fathers remind us. And far from being single, unitary beings, we arise as a dynamic collection of physical and mental happenings, including breathing, sleeping, dreaming, and waking. We have emotional and physiological, skeletal and psychological aspects to our being, and although these occasionally conflict with each other, they also cooperate and harmonize. What You Can Learn from the Skandhas Insight into your own psychological processes—into how your mind works—is not an end in itself. The tradition doesn’t offer this teaching as mere intellectual knowledge or information. You are encouraged to use this map to become more and more familiar, through direct experience, with the processes you call “me” and “my mind.” Developing a harmonious friendship with yourself is a central part of the Buddhist path of awakening. These teachings on the five skandhas invite you into a deeper, more intimate experi- ence of yourself. What do you find when you look into your own experience of body and mind? This isn’t about dogma—the point isn’t to confirm that the map is accurate or “correct.” Part of the point is to notice that the map is not the territory and never could be. (Imagine a map of Canada that was the size of Canada: how useless would that be?) You are invited to set forth as explorers of your own inner and outer terrains. Bon voyage. When you engage in this psychological exploration, one of your best companions will be a sense of friendliness toward yourself and others. Friendliness means taking these five mental processes not as signs of an inherent weakness or fundamental inadequacy but as aspects of your basic humanity. Through cul- tivating friendliness, you can experience the skandhas (as well as whatever else arises along the way) with a real sense of grate- fulness and appreciation. Let me be more specific here. The skandhas point, first, to healing the body–mind split. If you pay caring attention to body and mind as an actual experi- ence, not just a distant “good idea,” then you’ve made a good start. This is traditionally called “mindfulness of body.” It’s a simple sense of welcoming and including your present physical experience—not exaggerating your body or denigrating it, nei- ther praising nor condemning it. This is mind–body friendliness. The same goes for the other skandhas as well. If you can simply feel your feelings as they arise, without rejecting them or telling yourself stale stories of why you are “right” to feel this way, then feelings emerge as highlights of being human, vivid signs of being alive. You don’t need to act them out or repress them. This is spacious freedom. Beyond grasping and fixation, you allow your feelings to arise, be present, and go. You appreci- ate that life bubbles up as colorful emotions, as heartfelt experi- ence. You appreciate being human. Similarly, your thoughts and ideas can be seen as the liberating play of wisdom. If you notice your thoughts as thoughts, rather than confusing them with reality, then they become friends and allies, companions along the path. Instead of confining your con- sciousness of sense perceptions in narrow, tight boxes of “for me” or “against me,” you can open into a larger appreciation of seeing and hearing. You can taste the vastness of your world. On this journey, you see that both clarity and confusion are woven into your everyday experience of mind. The skandhas illuminate a fivefold process of mind grasping and fixating, engaging in a losing battle of ego against the world. Yet the same mental events can be the basis for a cease-fire, an entrance into non-struggle and luminous peace. Each moment in the unfolding of your experience is an opportunity to welcome yourself, your feelings, your mind, and others in your world. The key to working with mind, to understanding its processes, is found in the innate warmth and friendliness of the mind itself. You don’t need a newer, bet- ter, super-improved body–mind. The real challenge is making friends with the mind and body you already are. ♦ LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2017 55