They say that there are five basic issues that get in the way of meditation:- sensual desire, aversion, sloth (pronounced slow-th on this blog), worry and doubt. I’ve had my fair share of all of them over the years, but doubt has not really been an issue for me. Until recently.
Here’s the thing, from the point of view of self, impermanence is rather depressing. At some level you don’t want to believe, but you know it’s true. Equally, it’s just as surprising that people around you ignore impermanence. I see it all the time. “I’m just the way I am” shows absolutely no confidence in causes and conditions. Taking pride in their bodies even though only five minutes ago they were a prune shitting in a nappy, and in a few more minutes may very well be that way again.
Every thing is impermanent, everything depends on causes and conditions, and there is no self to be found in anything. (Dig the Oxford comma.) And whenever you think any other way, you’re going to suffer. Even worse, in basic buddhism there’s this concept called “skandhas” or aggregates, of which there are five:- material form, feelings, perception, volition (sometimes translated as mental formations), and sensory consciousness. You heard right. Perception and consciousness are not only impermanent, there is no self to be found there. No immortal soul going on an endless journey of personal growth I’m afraid.
That’s right, there is no self which doesn’t change and is not dependent on causes and conditions. The basic view of buddhism is that we don’t see things as they are, especially ourselves. The nidānas, as mentioned in my last post, start with ignorance, a confused sense of self being a kind of ignorance. Seungsahn, a Korean Zen master, recommended only asking “what am I?” It seems that his only acceptable answer was don’t know. The curious answer is if everything depends on everything else, and everything is in this continual state of flux only interrupted by our minds labelling, then there is one answer which is that this self is this whole flowing, ever changing universe. But then this perception which I can no longer rely for a sense of self contradicts that with a very localised point of view.
If there were truly a separate localised consciousness, the whole universe would rotate around it. And we know that’s not true. So, what is it then? Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know. Nothing has an independent existence. Really? So what is this universe, or multiverse or whatever you want to call it. The “whole” indescribable thing does. It’s a useless conversation. Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know. It seems you can’t think your way out of this problem, only make it one.
Now here’s the rub. This whole localised consciousness is, as is all consciousness is, a skandha. What does this mean? I can only give you my perception. Look at the working of the brain and there is no concrete thing which is a thought. Thoughts are processes, or pathways. Familiar ones we name, but they’re not things, just pathways even worse, they’re interpretations. We can’t even tell what we are, like the fish swimming in the sea unaware of the water.
Don’t know who I am. Familiar pathways are doubted. Is it an obstacle to meditation?