Mind — Reactive and Creative (Sangharakshita)

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Mind — Reactive and Creative (Sangharakshita)

Audio - free buddhist audio : : "mind: reactive and creative" by sangharakshita

Taking a bird’s-eye view of human culture, we see that there exist in the world numerous spiritual traditions. Some of these are of great antiquity, coming down from the remote past with all the authority and prestige of that which has been long established; others are of more recent origin. While some have crystallised, in the course of centuries, into religious cults with enormous followings, others have remained more of the nature of philosophies, making few concessions to popular tastes and needs. Each one of these traditions has its own system, that is to say, its own special concatenation — its own network — of ideas and ideals, of beliefs and practices, as well as its own particular starting-point in thought or experience out of which the whole system evolves. This starting-point is the ‘golden thread’ which, when wound into the ball of the total system, will lead one in at the ‘heavenly gate, built in Jerusalem’s wall’ of the tradition concerned.

Among the spiritual traditions of the world one of the oldest and most important is that known to us as Buddhism, the tradition deriving from the life and teaching of Gautama the Buddha, an Indian master the vibrations of whose extraordinary spiritual dynamism not only electrified North-Eastern India in the 6th century BCE but subsequently propagated themselves all over Asia and beyond. Like other traditions Buddhism possesses its own special system and its own distinctive starting point. The system of Buddhism is what is known as the ‘Dharma’, a Sanskrit word meaning, in this context, the ‘Doctrine’ or the ‘Teaching’, and connoting the sum total of the insights and experiences conducive to the attainment of Enlightenment or Buddhahood. Its starting-point is the mind.

That this, and no other, is the starting-point, is illustrated by two quotations from what are sometimes regarded as the two most highly antithetical, not to say mutually exclusive, developments within the whole field of Buddhism: Theravada and Zen. According to the first two verses of the Dhammapada, an ancient collection of metrical aphorisms included in the Pali Canon of the Theravadins, ‘(Unskilful) mental states are preceded by mind, led by mind, and made up of mind. If one speaks or acts with an impure mind suffering follows him even as the cart-wheel follows the hoof of the ox. (Skilful) mental states are preceded by mind, led by mind, and made up of mind. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind happiness follows him like his shadow.’ The Zen quotation is if anything more emphatic. In a verse which made its appearance in China during the T’ang dynasty, Zen itself, which claims to convey from generation to generation of disciples the very heart of the Buddha’s spiritual experience, is briefly characterized as:

A special transmission outside the Scriptures.
No dependence on words and letters.
Direct pointing to the mind.
Seeing into one’s own nature and realizing Buddhahood.

From these quotations, representative of many others which could be made, it is clear that the starting-point of Buddhism is not anything outside us. In the language of Western thought, it is not objective but subjective. The starting-point is the mind.

But what do we mean by mind? In the Dhammapada verses the original Pali word is mano; in the Chinese Zen stanza it is hsin, corresponding to the Sanskrit and Pali citta. As both these terms can be quite adequately rendered by the English ‘mind’ there is no need to explore etymologies and we can plunge at once into the heart of our subject.

To begin with, mind is twofold. On the one hand there is Absolute Mind; on the other, relative mind. By Absolute Mind is meant that infinite cosmic or transcendental Awareness within whose pure timeless flow the subject-object polarity as we ordinarily experience it is forever dissolved. For mind in this exalted sense Buddhism employs, according to context, a number of expressions, each with its own distinctive shade of meaning. Prominent among these expressions are the One Mind, the Unconditioned, Buddha-nature, the Void. In the more neutral language of philosophy, Absolute Mind is Reality. It is the realization of Absolute Mind through the dissolution of the subject-object polarity — the waking up to Reality out of the dream of mundane existence — which constitutes Enlightenment, the attainment of Enlightenment being, of course, the ultimate aim of Buddhism.

By relative mind is meant the individual mind or consciousness, functioning within the framework of the subject-object polarity, and it is with this mind that we are now concerned. Like mind in general, relative mind or consciousness is of two kinds: reactive and creative. While these are not traditional Buddhist expressions, neither of them rendering any one technical term in any of the canonical languages, they seem to express very well the import of the Buddha’s teaching. In any case, the distinction which they represent is of fundamental importance not only in the ‘system’ of Buddhism but in the spiritual life generally and even in the entire scheme of human evolution. The transition from ‘reactive’ to ‘creative’ marks, indeed, the beginning of spiritual life. It is conversion in the true sense of the term. What, then, do we mean by speaking of ‘reactive mind’ and ‘creative mind’?

In the first place, we should not imagine that there are literally two relative minds, one reactive the other creative. Rather should we understand that there are two ways in which relative mind or the individual consciousness is capable of functioning. It is capable of functioning reactively and it is capable of functioning creatively. When it functions in a reactive manner, it is known as the reactive mind; when it functions in a creative manner, it is known as the creative mind. But there is only one relative mind.

By the reactive mind is meant our ordinary, everyday mind, the mind that most people use most of the time. Or rather, it is the mind that uses them. In extreme cases, indeed, the reactive mind functions all the time, the creative mind remaining in complete abeyance. People of this type are born, live, and die animals; though possessing the human form they are in fact not human beings at all. Rather than attempt an abstract definition of the reactive mind let us try to grasp its nature by examining some of its actual characteristics.

In the first place, the reactive mind is a re-active mind. It does not really act, but only re-acts. Instead of acting spontaneously, out of its own inner fullness and abundance, it requires an external stimulus to set it in motion. This stimulus usually comes through the five senses. We are walking along the street. An advertisement catches our eye, its bright colours and bold lettering making an instant appeal. Perhaps it is an advertisement for a certain brand of cigarette, or for a certain make of car, or for summer holidays on the sun-drenched beaches of some distant pleasure resort. Whatever the goods or services depicted, our attention is attracted, arrested. We go and do what the advertisement is designed to make us do, or make a mental note to do it, or are left with an unconscious disposition to do it as and when circumstances permit. We have not acted, but have been activated. We have re-acted.

The reactive mind is, therefore, the conditioned mind. It is conditioned by its object (e.g. the advertisement) in the sense of being not merely dependent upon it but actually determined by it. The reactive mind is not free. Since it is conditioned the reactive mind is, moreover, purely mechanical. As such it can be appropriately described as the ‘penny-in-the-slot’ mind. Insert the coin, and out comes the packet. In much the same way, let the reactive mind be confronted with a certain situation or experience and it will react automatically, in an entirely mechanical, hence predictable, fashion. Not only our behaviour but even much of our ‘thinking’ conforms to this pattern. Whether in the field of politics, or literature, or religion, or whether in the affairs of everyday life, the opinions we so firmly hold and so confidently profess are very rarely the outcome of conscious reflection, of our individual effort to arrive at the truth. Our ideas are hardly ever our own. Only too often have they been fed into us from external sources, from books, newspapers, and conversations, and we have accepted, or rather received them, in a passive and un-reflecting manner. When the appropriate stimulus occurs we automatically reproduce whatever has been fed into our system, and it is this purely mechanical reaction that passes for expression of opinion. Truly original thought on any subject is, indeed, extremely rare. Though ‘original’ does not necessarily mean ‘different’, but rather whatever one creates out of one’s own inner resources regardless of whether or not this coincides with something previously created by somebody else. Some, of course, try to be different. This can, however, be a subtle form of conditionedness, for in trying to be different such people are still being determined by an object, by whatever or whoever it is they are trying to be different from. They are still re-acting, instead of really acting.

Besides being conditioned and mechanical, the reactive mind is repetitive. Being ‘programmed’ as it were by needs of which it is largely unconscious, it reacts to the same stimuli in much the same way, and like a machine therefore goes on performing the same operation over and over again. It is owing to this characteristic of the reactive mind that ‘human’ life as a whole becomes so much a matter of fixed and settled habit, in a world of routine. As we grow older, especially, do we develop a passive resistance to change, preferring to deepen the old ruts rather than strike out in a new direction. Even our religious life, if we are not careful, can become incorporated into the routine, can become part of the pattern, part of the machinery of existence. The Sunday service or the mid-week meditation become fixed as reference points in our lives, buoys charting a way through the dangerous waters of freedom, along with the weekly visit to the cinema and the launderette, the annual holiday at the seaside and the seasonal spree.

Above all, however, the reactive mind is the unaware mind. Whatever it does, it does without any real knowledge of what it is that it is doing. Metaphorically speaking, the reactive mind is asleep. Those in whom it predominates can, therefore, be described as asleep rather than awake. In a state of sleep they live out their lives; in a state of sleep they eat, drink, talk, work, play, vote, make love; in a state of sleep, even, they read books on Buddhism and try to meditate. Like somnambulists who walk with eyes wide open, they only appear to be awake. Some people, indeed, are so fast asleep that for all their apparent activity they can more adequately be described as dead. Their movements are those of a zombie, or a robot with all its controls switched on, rather than those of a truly aware human being. It is with this realization — when we become aware of our own unawareness, when we wake up to the fact that we are asleep — that spiritual life begins. One might, indeed, go so far as to say that it marks the beginning of truly human existence, though this would imply, indeed, a far higher conception of human existence than the word usually conveys — a conception nearer what is usually termed spiritual. This brings us to the second kind of relative mind, to what we have termed the creative mind.

The characteristics of the creative mind are the opposite of those of the reactive mind. The creative mind does not re-act. It is not dependent on, or determined by, the stimuli with which it comes into contact. On the contrary, it is active on its own account, functioning spontaneously, out of the depths of its own intrinsic nature. Even when initially prompted by something external to itself it quickly transcends its original point of departure and starts functioning independently. The creative mind can therefore be said to respond rather than to react. Indeed it is capable of transcending conditions altogether. Hence it can also be said that whereas the reactive mind is essentially pessimistic, being confined to what is given in immediate experience, the creative mind is profoundly and radically optimistic. Its optimism is not, however, the superficial optimism of the streets, no mere unthinking reaction to, or rationalization of, pleasurable stimuli. By virtue of the very nature of the creative mind such a reaction would he impossible. On the contrary, the optimism of the creative mind persists despite unpleasant stimuli, despite conditions unfavourable for optimism, or even when there are no conditions for it at all. The creative mind loves where there is no reason to love, is happy where there is no reason for happiness, creates where there is no possibility of creativity, and in this way ‘builds a heaven in hell’s despair’.

Not being dependent on any object, the creative mind is essentially non-conditioned. It is independent by nature and functions, therefore, in a perfectly spontaneous manner. When functioning on the highest possible level, at its highest pitch of intensity, the creative mind is identical with the Unconditioned, that is to say, it coincides with Absolute Mind. Being non-conditioned the creative mind is free. Indeed, it is Freedom itself. It is also original in the true sense of the term, being characterized by ceaseless productivity. This productivity is not necessarily artistic, literary, or musical, even though the painting, the poem, and the symphony are admittedly among its most typical, even as among its most strikingly adequate, manifestations. Moreover, just as the creative mind does not necessarily find expression in ‘works of art’, so what are conventionally regarded as ‘works of art’ are not necessarily all expressions of the creative mind. Imitative and lacking true originality, some of them are more likely to be the mechanical products of the reactive mind. Outside the sphere of the fine arts the creative mind finds expression in productive personal relations, as when through our own emotional positiveness others become more emotionally positive, or as when through the intensity of their mutual awareness two or more people reach out towards, and together experience, a dimension of being greater and more inclusive than their separate individualities. In these and similar cases the creative mind is productive in the sense of contributing to the increase, in the world, of the sum total of positive emotion, of higher states of being and consciousness.

Finally, as just indicated the creative mind is above all the aware mind. Being aware, or rather, being Awareness itself, the creative mind is also intensely and radiantly alive. The creative person, as one in whom the creative mind manifests may be termed, is not only more aware than the reactive person but possessed of far greater vitality. This vitality is not just animal high spirits or emotional exuberance, much less still mere intellectual energy or the compulsive urgency of egoistic volition. Were such expressions permissible, one might say it is the Spirit of Life itself rising like a fountain from the infinite depths of existence, and vivifying, through the creative person, all with whom it comes into contact.

One picture being worth a thousand words, the reactive mind and the creative mind are illustrated by two important Buddhist symbols. These are the symbols of the Wheel of Life and the Path (or Way), otherwise known — more abstractly and geometrically — as the Circle and the Spiral.

The Wheel of Life, or Wheel of Becoming, occupies an important place in Tibetan popular religious art, being depicted in gigantic size on the walls of temples, usually in the vestibule, as well as on a reduced scale in painted scrolls. It consists of four concentric circles. In the first circle, or hub of the Wheel, are depicted a cock, a snake, and a pig, each biting the tail of the one in front. These three animals represent the three ‘unskilful roots’ or ‘poisons’ of craving, aversion, and delusion, which are, of course, the three mainsprings of the reactive mind, the first and second being the two principal negative emotions and the third the darkness of spiritual unawareness out of which they arise. Their biting one another’s tails signifies their interdependence, or the fact that the circle is a vicious circle.

The second circle is divided vertically into two segments, a black one on the left hand side and a white one on the right. In the black segment the figures of naked human beings, chained together, are seen plunging headlong downwards with expressions of anguish and terror. In the white segment modestly clad figures, carrying mani-cylinders (what in the West are erroneously termed ‘prayer-wheels’) and religious offerings move gently upwards with serene and happy countenances. These two segments represent two opposite movements or tendencies within the Wheel itself, one centripetal the other centrifugal. In other words, while the black segment represents a movement in the direction of the hub of the Wheel the white segment represents a movement away from the hub and towards the circumference — towards freedom, ultimately, from the reactive mind. Though in a sense constituting a stage of the Path, or a section of the Spiral, it is still part of the Wheel inasmuch as regression from it, in the form of a transition from the white to the black segment, is liable to occur at any time. The white segment can therefore be regarded as representing states of consciousness intermediate between the reactive mind and the creative mind from which one can either slide back into the former or rise up into the latter. As the presence of the mani-cylinders and the religious offerings suggests, the white segment also represents conventional piety, which being part of the process of the reactive mind is not in itself a sufficient means to Enlightenment and from which, therefore, a reaction to a life of vice and impiety — to the black segment — is always possible.

The third circle of the Wheel of Life is divided as though by spokes into five or six segments. These are the five or six ‘spheres’, or planes, of conditioned existence into which sentient beings are reborn in accordance with their skilful and unskilful bodily, verbal, and mental actions, in other words, as the result of their past ‘good’ and ‘bad’ karma. These spheres, depicted in Tibetan religious art with great richness of detail, are (proceeding clockwise from the top) those of the gods, the ‘Titans’, the hungry ghosts, beings in hell, animals, and men. The total number of segments is either five or six depending on whether the gods and the Titans, who are engaged in perpetual warfare with each other, are enumerated separately or together. In all the segments the presence of a differently coloured Buddha figure represents the persistence of the possibility of Enlightenment even under the most adverse conditions.

Although the five or six spheres of conditioned existence are usually interpreted cosmologically, as objectively existing worlds which are just as real, for the beings inhabiting them, as our own world is for human beings, nevertheless it is also possible to interpret them psychologically as representing different states of human life and consciousness — an interpretation which has some sanction in tradition. Looked at in this way the sphere of the gods represents a life of security and content, that of the Titans one of jealousy, competition, and aggressiveness, that of the hungry ghosts one of neurotic dependence and craving, that of the beings in hell one of physical and mental suffering, that of the animals one of barbarism and ignorance, while the sphere of men represents a mixed state of existence with neither pleasure nor pain predominating. In the course of a single lifetime one may experience all six states, living now as it were in ‘heaven’ now as it were in ‘hell’, and so on.

The fourth and last circle, or the rim as it were of the Wheel, is divided into twelve segments, each containing a picture. The twelve pictures (again proceeding clockwise) depict a blind man with a stick, a potter with a wheel and pots, a monkey climbing a flowering tree, a ship with four passengers, one of whom is steering, an empty house, a man and woman embracing, a man with an arrow in his eye, a woman offering drink to a seated man, a man gathering fruit from a tree, a pregnant woman, a woman in childbirth, and a man carrying a corpse to the cremation-ground. These pictures illustrate the twelve ‘links’ in the chain of cyclical conditionality, each of which arises in dependence on, or is conditioned by, the one immediately preceding. In dependence upon ignorance, the ‘first’ link of the chain, arise the volitional factors which determine the nature of the next rebirth. These give rise to consciousness, in the sense of the karmically neutral ‘resultant’ consciousness, which begins functioning at the moment of conception. In dependence on consciousness arises the psycho-physical organism. In dependence on the psycho-physical organism arise the six sense-organs (mind being reckoned as a sixth sense), while in dependence on these there arises contact with the external world, which gives rise to sensation, which gives rise to craving, which gives rise to grasping, which gives rise to ‘coming-to-be’. In dependence on ‘coming-to-be’, by which is meant the renewed process of conditioned existence, arises birth, in the sense of rebirth, from which sooner or later there inevitably follows death. (For a detailed discussion see Sangharakshita, A Survey of Buddhism, Windhorse, 1993, pp.129-135). As even a bare enumeration of them is sufficient to make clear, the twelve links are primarily regarded as being distributed over three successive lives, the first two belonging to the previous life, the middle eight to the present life, and the last two to the future life. However, just as the five or six spheres of sentient existence can be interpreted psychologically as well as cosmologically, so the whole twelve-linked chain of cyclical conditionality is also to be regarded as operating within the limits of a single experience of the reactive mind.

Completing the symbolism, Tibetan religious art depicts the whole Wheel of Life, with its four circles and its innumerable sentient creatures, as being gripped from behind by a monstrous demon, the head, tail, and claws of whom alone are visible. This is the demon of Impermanence, or the great principle of Change, which though dreadful to the majority nevertheless contains the promise and potentiality of development, of evolution.

From the description just given it is clear that the Tibetan Wheel of Life is able to symbolize the workings of the reactive mind because the reactive mind is itself a wheel. Like a wheel, it simply goes round and round. Prompted by negative emotions springing from the depths of unawareness, it again and again reacts to stimuli impinging on it from the outside world, and again and again precipitates itself into one or another sphere or mode of conditioned existence. Moreover, the wheel is a machine, perhaps the most primitive of all machines, and as such the Wheel of Life represents the mechanical and repetitive nature of the reactive mind.

Some paintings of the Wheel of Life depict in their top right-hand corner the Buddha, clad in the saffron robes of a wanderer, pointing with the fingers of his right hand. He is indicating the Path or Way. To this symbol, second of the two great symbols with which we are concerned, we must now turn.

As previously explained, just as the Wheel of Life symbolizes the reactive mind, so the Path or Way symbolizes the creative mind, or the whole process of cumulative, as distinct from reactive, conditionality. It works on the principle not of round and round, but of up and up. In the case of the Wheel of Life, as depicted in Tibetan religious art, practically all the different aspects of the reactive mind coalesce into a single composite symbol of marvellous richness and complexity. For the Path or Way there seems to be no corresponding picture. Instead, there are a number of relatively independent representations, some of them in the form of images, others in the form of conceptual formulations of the various successive stages of the Path. Among the former are the images of the Tree of Enlightenment, or Cosmic Tree, at the foot of which the Buddha seated himself on the eve of his great attainment, and the ladder of gold, silver, and crystal on which, after instructing his deceased mother in the higher truths of Buddhism, he descended to earth from the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods. Among the conceptual formulations of the Path are the Three Trainings (i.e. ethics, meditation, and wisdom), the Noble Eightfold Path, the series of twelve positive ‘links’ beginning with suffering and ending with knowledge of the destruction of the biases, the Seven Stages of Purification, and the Seven Limbs of Enlightenment. All these concrete images and conceptual formulations of the Path represent one or another aspect of the total process of the creative mind, a process of such multi-faceted splendour that tradition has been unable, apparently, to combine them all into one composite representation of their common object. For the purpose of our present exposition we shall select one of the conceptual formulations of the Path, that of the Seven Limbs of Enlightenment, as this exhibits in a particularly clear and striking manner the cumulative and truly progressive nature of the creative mind.

The seven ‘limbs’ or ‘factors’ (anga) of Enlightenment (bodhi) are: Recollection or Awareness, Investigation of Mental States, Energy or Vigour, Rapture, ‘Tension-Release’, Concentration, and Tranquillity. Each of these limbs or factors arises in dependence on the one immediately preceding — out of its fullness, as it were — and as we shall now see in detail each one, as it arises, constitutes a still higher development of the creative mind as it spirals towards the final — and everlasting — explosion of creativity that constitutes Enlightenment.

1. Recollection or Awareness (smriti). As insisted once already, spiritual life begins with awareness, when one becomes aware that one is unaware, or when one wakes up to the fact that one is asleep. Within the context of the total evolutionary process this ‘limb’ or ‘factor’, the emergence of which constitutes one a human being, occupies a middle place, being intermediate between the total unawareness, or unconsciousness, of the stone, and the Perfect Awareness of Buddhahood. Within the comparatively narrow but still aeonic context of purely human development, awareness occupies a middle position between the simple sense consciousness of the animal and the higher spiritual awareness of the person who has begun to confront the transcendental. Thus we arrive at a hierarchy which, excluding unconsciousness and the vegetative sensitivity of the plant, consists of the four principal degrees of (i) sense consciousness, (ii) human consciousness or awareness proper, (iii) transcendental awareness, and (iv) Perfect Awareness. As one of the limbs of Enlightenment or Enlightenment-factors, Recollection or Awareness corresponds to the second of these degrees, that of human consciousness or awareness proper. Awareness in this sense is synonymous with self-consciousness, a term which draws attention to one of the most important characteristics of awareness. Whereas sense consciousness is simply consciousness of external things and of one’s own experience, awareness consists in being conscious that one is conscious, in knowing that one knows, or, in a word, of realizing. Though the traditional vocabulary of Buddhism does not contain any term strictly correspondent with self-consciousness, the explanation which is given makes it clear that this is what, in fact, it is. Awareness consists, according to the texts, of awareness of one’s bodily posture and movements, of one’s sensations, whether pleasurable or painful, and of the presence within oneself of skilful and unskilful mental states. More will be said about each of these later on.

2. Investigation of Mental States (dharma-vicaya). From awareness in general we pass to awareness, particularly, of the psychical as distinct from the physical side of our being. This psychical side is not static but dynamic. It is made up of an endless stream of mental states. These states are of two kinds, skilful and unskilful. Unskilful mental states are those rooted in craving, hatred, and delusion. Skilful mental states are those rooted in non-craving, non-hatred, and non-delusion, in other words in content, love, and wisdom. Investigation of Mental States is a kind of sorting-out operation whereby one distinguishes between the skilful and the unskilful states and separates them into two different categories. In terms of our present discussion one distinguishes between what in the mind is reactive and what is creative. It is, however, awareness that releases creativity. By becoming more aware we not only resolve unawareness, thus eventually achieving self-consciousness or true individuality, but also effect a switch-over of energy from the cyclical to the spiral type of conditionality, that is to say, from the reactive and repetitive to the free and creative type of mental functioning.

3. Energy or Vigour (virya). Although often defined as the effort to cultivate skilful and eradicate unskilful mental states, the third Enlightenment-factor is much more in the nature of a spontaneous upsurge of energy coming about with the birth of awareness and the growing capacity to discriminate between the reactive and the creative mind. Most people live far below the level of their optimum vitality. Their energies are either expended in ways that are ultimately frustrating or simply blocked. With increased awareness, however, through meditation, and through improved communication with other people — perhaps with the help of a freer life-style and more truly fulfilling means of livelihood — a change takes place. Blockages are removed, tensions relaxed. More and more energy is released. Eventually, like a great dynamo humming into activity as soon as the current is switched on or a tree bursting into bloom as the spring rain flushes up through its branches, the whole being is re-charged, re-vitalized, and one expends oneself in intense creative activity.

4. Rapture (priti). Release of blocked and frustrated energy is accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of delight and ecstasy which is not confined to the mind but in which the senses and the emotions both participate. This is Rapture, the fourth Enlightenment-factor, of which there are five degrees. These five degrees produce physical innervations of corresponding degrees of intensity. The lesser thrill is only able to raise the hairs of the body, momentary rapture is like repeated flashes of lightning, flooding rapture descends on the body like waves breaking on the seashore, in all-pervading rapture the whole body is completely surcharged, blown like a full bladder or like a mountain cavern pouring forth a mighty flood of water, while transporting rapture is so strong that it lifts the body up to the extent of launching it in the air. Under ordinary circumstances only prolonged meditation enables one to experience Rapture in its fullness, from the lowest to the highest degree, but this is not to say that it cannot be experienced to a great extent in other ways as well. The creation and enjoyment of works of art, appreciation of the beauties of nature, solving problems in mathematics, authentic human communication — these and similar activities all involve release of energy and all are, therefore, experienced as intensely pleasurable.

5. Tension-release (prasrabdhi). Blocked and frustrated energy having been fully released, the physical innervations by which the release was accompanied gradually subside and the mind experiences a state of non-hedonic spiritual happiness unmixed with any bodily sensation. Subsidence of the physical innervations of Rapture, as well as of the perceptions and motivations derived therefrom, is known as Tension-release. This Enlightenment-factor, the fifth in the series, thus represents the stage of transition from the psycho-somatic to the mental-spiritual level of experience. Awareness of one’s physical body and one’s surroundings becomes minimal, or disappears entirely, and one becomes more and more deeply absorbed in a state of ‘changeless, timeless bliss’ quite impossible to describe.

6. Concentration (samadhi). Impelled by the inherent momentum of one’s experience, absorption in this state gradually becomes complete. Such total absorption is known as samadhi. Though untranslatable by any one English word, this term is usually rendered as concentration, a meaning which it admittedly does bear in many contexts. As the sixth of the Enlightenment-factors, samadhi stands for very much more than simple fixation of the mind on a single object, especially if this fixation is understood as something that is achieved forcibly, by sheer exercise of will, or despite strong resistance from other parts of the psyche. Rather is it the spontaneous merging of all the energies of the psyche in an experience so intensely pleasurable that thought and volition are suspended, space vanishes, and time stands still. It is in fact a state of total integration and absorption rather than of ‘concentration’ in the more limited and artificial sense of the term, and as such can be compared best, though still inadequately, to the experience of the musician rapt in the enjoyment of a piece of music or of the lover immersed in the joys of love.

7. Tranquillity (upeksa). When perfectly concentrated the mind attains a state of poise and equilibrium free from the slightest trace of wavering or unsteadiness. This equilibrium is not only psychological as between contrary emotional states but spiritual as between such pairs of opposites as enjoyment and suffering, acquisition and deprivation, self and not-self, finite and infinite, existence and non-existence, life and death. As a spiritual state or experience it is known as Tranquillity, the seventh and last of the Enlightenment-factors and the culmination, so far as this formulation is concerned, of the whole process of the creative mind. Though sometimes connoting simply a psychological state of security and rest it is here synonymous with Nirvana or Enlightenment itself. It is that state of absolute metaphysical axiality — of complete equilibrium of being — to which the Buddha refers in the Mangala Sutta, or ‘Discourse on Auspicious Signs’, saying:

He whose firm mind, untroubled by the touch
Of all terrestrial happenings whatsoe’er,
Is void of sorrow, stainless and secure —
This is the most auspicious sign of all.

In this manner, each member of the series arising out of the abundance — even the exuberance — of the one by which it was immediately preceded, the seven Enlightenment-factors collectively illustrate the way in which the creative mind functions, how it progresses from perfection to ever greater perfection, until the fullness of creativity is attained. But having arrived at this point, thus completing our brief study of the two principal symbols of Buddhism, we cannot help asking what the connection is between them. At what point, if any, do the Wheel and the Path, the Circle and the Spiral, intersect?

In order to answer this question we shall have to refer back to the twelve links in the chain of cyclical conditionality. Besides being distributed over three successive lifetimes, these are regarded as being either volitions or the results of volitions and as belonging, therefore, either to what is known as the cause-process or to what is known as the effect-process. Ignorance and the karma-formations, the first two links, constitute the cause-process of the past. They represent the sum total of karmic factors responsible for the present birth, or rather rebirth, of the individual concerned. Consciousness, the psycho-physical organism, the six sense-organs, contact, and feeling make up the effect-process of the present life. Craving, grasping, and coming-to-be are the cause-process of the present life, while birth together with old age, disease, and death constitute the effect-process of the future. From this account it is clear that feeling, the last link of the effect-process of the present life, is immediately followed by craving, the first link of the cause-process of the present life. This is the crucial point. This is the point at which the Wheel either stops, or begins to make a fresh revolution. It is also the point of intersection between the Wheel and the Path.

As we have seen, the first of the seven Enlightenment-factors is Recollection or Awareness. If we remain simply aware of the pleasurable and painful feelings that arise within ourselves as a result of our contact with the external world, instead of reacting to them with craving and aversion, then craving, the first link of the cause-process of the present life, will be unable to come into existence. Awareness puts as it were a brake on the Wheel. For this reason the cultivation of Awareness occupies a central place in the Buddhist scheme of spiritual self-discipline. It is the principal means of transition from the reactive mind to the creative mind, from the Wheel to the Path, from the Circle to the Spiral — ultimately, from Samsara to Nirvana.

Tradition distinguishes four different kinds of awareness, or four different levels on which it is to be cultivated. In the first place, one is aware of one’s bodily posture and movements. This consists in the awareness that one is, for example, standing, or sitting, or walking, or lying down, as well as in the mindful performance of all bodily actions, from the vigorous use of the morning toothbrush to the delicate wielding, the almost imperceptible manipulation, of the surgeon’s scalpel or the artist’s brush. Secondly, one is aware of one’s feelings, pleasant, painful, and neutral, as well as of the emotions arising in direct or indirect dependence upon them. One knows whether one feels elated or depressed, whether one’s emotional state is one of love or hatred, hope or fear, frustration or fulfilment, and so on. One is also aware of more complex and ambivalent emotions. In order to be aware of one’s feelings and emotional reactions one must of course allow oneself to experience them, one must recognize and acknowledge them as one’s own. This is not to recommend emotional self-indulgence, but only to emphasize the fact that repression and awareness are incompatible. Thirdly, one is aware of one’s thoughts. This consists not only of the vigilant observation of images and ideas, mental associations, trains of reflection, and conceptual systems, but also in seeing to what extent these are rooted in the unskilful states of neurotic craving, aversion, and spiritual ignorance, and to what extent rooted in the opposite states, that is to say in states of contentment, love, and wisdom. Practising these three kinds of awareness, or cultivating awareness on these three different levels, we begin to see how conditioned we are, how machine-like in our functioning, how dead. Fourthly and lastly, one is aware of the difference between one’s past dead state of mental conditionedness and mechanicalness and one’s (potential) more alive future state of freedom and spontaneity. Awareness of the Wheel and of the fact that one is bound on the Wheel generates awareness of the Path, as well as of the fact that one has the capacity to follow it.

Awareness is therefore of crucial importance in human existence. As the bud presages the flower, so the development of awareness heralds the dawn of the still higher development that we term the spiritual life. Such being the case it is not surprising that in Buddhism there are a number of practices designed to promote the growth of this all-important quality, but it must be emphasized that unless we exercise the utmost caution these practices will themselves tend to become mechanical and, therefore, bricks in the prison-house of our conditionedness rather than the implements of its destruction. The same warning applies to all ‘religious’ beliefs and practices without exception. If eternal vigilance is the price of mundane liberty how much more is it the price of spiritual freedom! Whether studying mystical theology or making votive offerings, engaging in spiritual discussion with friends or listening to a lecture on ‘Mind — Reactive and Creative’, unless we remember the Buddha’s ‘Parable of the Raft’ and constantly remind ourselves what the true function of all these activities is, there is the danger that we shall find ourselves not midstream on the Raft, not bound for the Further Shore, but on the contrary taking refuge in a structure which, while apparently constructed out of the same materials as the Raft, nevertheless remains firmly stuck in the mud-flats of this shore. Only by remaining constantly on our guard shall we succeed in making the difficult transition from the Reactive Mind to the Creative Mind, thus inheriting the spirit of the Buddha’s Teaching and realizing the true purpose of human life.

Based on a lecture originally given on 19 March 1967 under the auspices of Reading University Buddhist Society. First published in The Middle Way, August 1971. Now published in the book Buddha Mind from Windhorse Publications.
« Last Edit: 20 Apr, 2015, 18:35:30 by spiros »


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