How Conscious of Your Consciousness are You?

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All suffering arise from self-centredness.
All solutions arise from selflessness.

– Stonepeace

A common mistake about consciousness is to misunderstand it (in secular terms) as some sort of engine that drives a car, or (in religious terms) as soul or permanent self that remains unchanged and autonomous despite all the changes in the corporeal form. In both (mis)understandings, there is an assumption of something substantial that remains unchanged in time and space. The Buddha taught that consciousness arises only out of conditions; without the presence of such conditions there is no consciousness.

Consciousness depends on form, feelings, perceptions, and impulses [together called the five aggregates] for its arising and cannot exist independently of them. In other words, there is no ‘consciousness’ independent of nama-rupa [mind-matter/body], the psychophysical system we have been talking about. In the Buddha’s teachings, it is essentially an observing function. The metaphor here is that of a cloud: the cloud appears as a result of atmospheric conditions but has no independent existence; its appearing and disappearing are entirely dependent on conditions…

The soul theory plays itself out in different ways in monotheistic and polytheistic religions, but the revolution of the Buddha in his own culture was to investigate the matter of self and not find any abiding content. A great many misunderstandings have taken place in interpreting the Buddha’s teaching of anatta or non-self, but it is important to keep in mind that while the Buddha pointed to a lack of an abiding core, he did not deny an existential personality [that changes and is thus unsubstantial]. In other words, things exist but they are not real [unchanging and substantial]. For the Buddha, the individual or the personality was a conglomerate of five aggregates or heaps – skandhas.

The Heart of the Universe: Exploring the Heart Sutra
Mu Seong

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