This waking life is like a dream. If we know we’re dreaming, will we hold on to the people in the dream? get upset about how we feel or that we lost something in that dream? Son to Mom: “Pretend you are surrounded by monsters and they are all coming at you. You’re really frightened. You think they’re going to attack you. What would you do?” Mom: “I don’t know—What would you do?” Son: “Stop pretending!”
Examining the aggregates of existence in the past few weeks, we see that we live in a constructed reality. Consciousness storing received sense impressions in memory and projecting them into the future, we create a solid, personal, view of an abiding self. But consciousness is only here and now—the present moment is all there is. The texture of thoughts, mental states, perceptions, body sensations is ephemeral, empty. Appearances are insubstantial, fleeting, generated by a nervous system pulsing on and off thousands of times every second. What feels solid is just hardness conveyed by the sense of touch, another fleeting sense impression. We may never know what underlying reality truly is.
The wisdom of the teaching of the five aggregates is to see “emptiness” or “selflessness,” which does not denote nothingness, a state of desolation—it points to the transparency and spaciousness of experience. The potentially deeply liberating effect of meditation is that it gives a steady basis from which emptiness—the impermanent and insubstantial nature of sense experiences that arise and dissolve, appear and fade—is revealed.
Buddha: “Empty phenomena roll on. This view alone is true.” Look deeply, be free.
Continuing our conversation from last week, the notion of the insubstantiality of what we call self is unique to the Buddha’s teaching. Under investigation, the components of what we call “self” are distinct and constantly changing. It is impossible to point to a solid unchanging entity. It’s not to believe that you don’t exist—rather, to understand the constant flux of existence. It is this possibility of change that we entertain every time we meditate.
The Buddha said that the 5 Aggregates are like a magic show. We’re entranced by the show put on by them as long as we don’t understand the “trick” of the show. Wisdom depends on coming out of that entrancement.
To separate the aspects of the magic show, the Buddha discussed 2 categories within these 5 aggregates: nama and rupa. Nama literally means name (or mind) and rupa means form or body. The 4 components to nama or mind are feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.
RUPA: interactions of matter—e.g., a bell (matter) produces sound—when sound strikes the ear (also matter), CONSCIOUSNESS receives the sound and hearing arises. Consciousness is sentient brightness knowing experience that holds, receives or gathers matter at the sense doors. Once consciousness receives, FEELING (interpreted as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) arises—so quickly, we fail to register consciousness and feeling separately, believing them to be unitary. PERCEPTION co-arises, recognizing and interpreting the sound, identifies it based on memory and concepts, not bare sense experience. MENTAL FORMATIONS follow generated by mind—mental states and factors arise—thoughts, images, joy, sadness, opinions.
This week, can you see how the Aggregates are present in moments of experience?