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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 19 WHAT KEEPS US FROM TASTING our inherent wisdom? Con- cept. In general, we are chasing one conceptual creation after anoth- er. This matrix of concepts appears in many variations, but its weak point is always the same: it is fabricated. Without really looking at the nature of appearances, we project a meaning-generality onto the world, shaping it with our assumption of independent existence. The Buddha taught that we can’t realize enlightenment until we experience a very basic truth: everything in the world is in- terdependent. That is the idea of emptiness. We say something is empty because there is no single entity that is sustained in space independently. If the tree were really there, it would not take seeds, sun, water, leaves, and bark to make a tree. People sometimes confuse emptiness with “blankness” or “voidness,” as if Buddhists were into nihilism. But we’re not into nihilism any more than we are into permanence. Enlightenment is a level of wisdom that transcends both those concepts. Concept is what we add to the interdependent nature of things. Moment by moment, we look at ourselves and the world and draw an erroneous conclusion. The point of contemplative meditation is to slowly unravel this creative process. Along the path, we discover that we have made many assumptions. The biggest assumption is that the self exists in the way we think it does. When we die, this concept of self—which we had assumed to be this body, with this family, and with these friends— dissolves, and only consciousness remains. That is very destabi- lizing. We experience such dissolution in a small way when our marriage breaks up or we crash our car. Suddenly we feel like we’re falling apart, as if our identity is lost—but it was never there. Like everything, it was dependent on something else. It is our habit to color interdependence with a conceptual over- lay. This overlay is hard to crack because it’s been going on for a long time—in fact, endlessly. We might think it won’t be quite as strong tomorrow, but unless we meditate to get a little distance from it, we’re likely to react to the world in our usual habitual way as soon as we wake up in the morning. This is called karma, which means “action.” We are conditioned by lifetimes of karma—ha- bitual actions that keep us in samsara, the cycle of suffering. How do we reverse this process? In contemplative medita- tion we can begin to see the interdependence of a tree or the season, and if we go deeper we can see the interdependence of ourselves. In one traditional contemplation, we break the body into parts, all the while looking for the independent en- tityknownas“me.” AmImyhand?AmImyhead?AmImy breath? Am I my blood? With this contemplation, we discover that there is no body called “me.” Rather, the body is a form made up of elements. Form is the first of the five skandhas, a Sanskrit word that means “heap.” When we look closely at the shape made by a heap of rice, we see that it is really only a conglomeration of grains. In the same way, in contemplation we look at how ignorance gathers the skandhas— form, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness—to fabri- cate the imaginary, independent entity known as “me.” The second skandha is the feeling—good, bad, or neutral— that we attach to everything we experience. We solidify feeling with the third skandha, discrimination or perception. When we say, “I felt good yesterday when I went up into the mountains and let the sun shine on me,” we are discriminating how we felt, where we were, and how the feeling happened. Based on form, feeling, and perception, a fully formulated thought or concept now arises. This is the fourth skandha, kar- mic formation. Traditional teachings identify fifty-one such Which Part Is Me? Of all our concepts, the most basic—and problematic—is our mistaken belief in a solid, cohesive, and independent self. SAKYONG MIPHAM breaks it down for us. GINOSEVERINI.SELF-PORTRAIT(1960REPLICAOFA1912WORK).COLL.MUSÉENATIONALD’ARTMODERNE,CENTREGEORGESPOMPIDOU,PARIS.©ESTATEOFGINOSEVERINI/SODRAC(2008) Self-Portrait, by Gino Severini MAY 18-41.indd 19 MAY 18-41.indd 19 3/6/08 11:17:03 AM 3/6/08 11:17:03 AM