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Lions Roar : March 2019
R ECENTLY I’VE BEEN REREADING one of the oldest and most famous collections of wise sayings of the Buddha, the Dham- mapada. These elegant verses begin by urging us to pay close attention to mind because, as the opening lines tell us: “All that we are is a product of our minds.” The Buddha then explains neurotic suffering as following inevitably from confused thinking, just as an oxcart follows the steps of the ox pulling it. Even in our time—when talk of the brain’s neuroplasti- city and cognitive stress reduction is heard more frequently than oxcart metaphors—this short state- ment of karmic cause and effect sounds plausible. As another old spiritual text says, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Yet, when we pause to consider these ancient words more closely, we wonder: how does this kar- mic patterning of mind and world actually work? According to Buddhist teachings, all our experi- ences—of ourselves and others, of our bodies and minds—are profoundly shaped by our conscious- ness. Sometimes this tradition of Buddhist teach- ings and practices is called “consciousness matters,” since our state of consciousness is central to all our experiences. As writer Anaïs Nin said: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” In our quest to delve into the causes of both suf- fering and liberation, the meditative tradition has left us several helpful hints. Later Buddhist teachers articulated an insightful understanding of how our everyday experience is shaped using a psychological model of different kinds of consciousness. As with the oxcart following the ox, our experi- ence of the world follows in part from our con- sciousness that perceives it. According to early Bud- dhist cosmology, human beings are only one of the six different realms of experience, each with its own way of experiencing reality. A classic analogy asks us to consider these six kinds of beings standing in front of what we human beings call “a lake.” WHAT MIND IS MADE OF To transform your mind, you need to understand how it works. GAYLON FERGUSON breaks down the different components of consciousness and how they create your outer and inner world. For beings in the pleasurable “god realms” of experience, the lake suggests a limitless expanse. They experience it as the blissfully unbounded infinity of consciousness itself. For the beings called “hungry ghosts”—who have unquenchable thirst and insatiable hunger symbol- ized by their tiny, narrow throats and large bellies— the lake appears as a delightfully sweet drink these beings passionately consume—and consume and consume—but they are never sated. For beings in what are called the hell realms of existence, the constant, irritating sound of the lap- ping waves of the water of the lake reminds them of the flaming fire of anger and hatred that follows them everywhere. For beings in the animal realm, the water is nothing special, just something to drink and swim around in. And for beings stuck in what are called the jealous god realms, the neighboring expansive- ness of the heavenly god realms always seems bet- ter than where they are, an enviable state almost attainable through one more burst of speed and aggression—but not quite. The psychological insight symbolically encoded in these realms is that the different experiences of “the lake” correspond to differences in conscious- ness—the various mental states of the six kinds of beings perceiving their world. This should sound familiar to us, because our experience in the round of any given day can cycle through these psychological “realms.” We easily slide from a posi- tive morning meeting, where we work collabora- tively with other human beings on our team; to a jealousy-filled lunch, where we hear that someone received an undeserved raise while we did not; to a suddenly angry cellphone conversation with our GAYLON FERGUSON is an associate professor at Naropa University, senior teacher in the Shambhala community, and author of Natura l Bravery. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 57