All of life is made up of the five khandhas (groups): rupa or material form; vedana, feeling; saņņa, perception; sankhara, volitional impulses; and viņņana, consciousness. There is no owner or director of the khandhas, either within them or outside of them. In any examination of life, the five khandhas are a comprehensive enough base from which to work. The five khandhas proceed in conformity with the principle of Dependent Origination, existing within the continuum of interrelated and interdependent determinants.
In this context, the five khandhas, or life, are subject to the Three Characteristics: they are in a condition of aniccata -- impermanent and unstable; anattata -- containing no intrinsic self; and dukkhata -- constantly oppressed by arising and cessation, and primed to cause suffering whenever there is association through ignorance. The five khandhas, proceeding thus with constant change and free of any abiding entity, are subject only to the natural continuum of interrelated determinants. But for most of us, resistance to the flow results from mistakenly clinging to one or another feature of the continuum as being the self, and wanting this 'self' to proceed in some desired way. When things don't conform with desires, the resulting stress causes frustration and subsequently more intense clinging. The vague awareness of the inevitability of change to that cherished self, or the suspicion that it may not in fact exist, causes this clinging and desire to become even more desperate, and fear and anxiety take root deeply in the mind.
These states of mind are avijja -- ignorance of the truth, seeing things as self; tanha -- wanting this imagined self to attain various things or states; and upadana -- clinging and attachment to these mistaken ideas and all that they imply. These defilements are embedded in the mind, from where they direct our behavior, shape personality and influence the fortunes of our lives, both overtly and covertly. In general, they are the cause of suffering for all unenlightened beings.
In essence, we are here dealing with the discord between two processes:
1. The natural process of life, proceeding subject to the fixed, natural law of the Three Characteristics. These are expressed through birth (jati), aging (jara) and death (marana), both in their basic and in their profound senses.
2. The contrived process of craving and clinging, based on ignorance of that true nature of life, which causes the mistaken perception of and attachment to a self -- 'creating a self with which to clog up the flow of nature.' This is a life bound by ignorance, lived with clinging, in bondage, in contradiction with the law of Nature, and lived with fear and suffering.
Life, from an ethical point of view, can be said to comprise two kinds of self. Any particular life continuum, proceeding along its natural conditioned course, although bare of any enduring essence, can still be identified as one continuum distinct from others. This is called the 'conventional self,' and this convention can be skillfully used in relation to moral conduct.
Then there is the 'contrived' self, fabricated by ignorance and held fast by craving and clinging. The conventional self is no cause for problem when it is clearly understood as such. The 'contrived' self, however, concealed within the conventional self, is the self of clinging, which must suffer the vicissitudes of the former self, and thus produces suffering. In other words, it is a process on two levels: on one level is the conventional self, on the other level is the deluded attachment to the conventional self as an absolute reality. If deluded attachment is changed into knowledge and understanding, the problem is solved.
A way of life founded on clinging to the notion of self implants fear and anxiety deeply into the psyche, from where they control behavior and enslave the unsuspecting worldling. A life view based on attachment to the self-concept has many harmful repercussions, such as:
In this context, stress and suffering not only arise within the individual, but also radiate outwards to society. Thus the condition of clinging (upadana) can be singled out as the main source of all man-made troubles occurring in society.
The cycle of Dependent Origination shows the origin of this stressful, self-centered life, and its inevitable result in suffering. With the breaking of the cycle, the stressful life is completely transformed, resulting in a life that is lived with wisdom, in harmony with nature, and liberated from clinging to self.
To live with wisdom means to live with clear awareness of the way things are and to know how to benefit from nature; to benefit from nature means to live in harmony with nature; to live in harmony with nature is to live freely; to live freely is to be free of the power of craving and clinging; to live without clinging means to live with wisdom, to know and relate to things through an understanding of the process of cause and effect.
According to the Buddha's teaching, there is nothing which exists beyond or separate from nature, either as a mystical power controlling events from without, or in any other way related to or involved in the proceedings of nature. Whatever is associated with nature cannot be separate from nature, but must be a component of it. All events in nature proceed at the direction of the interrelationship of natural phenomena. There are no accidents, nor is there any creative force independent of causes. Seemingly astounding and miraculous events are entirely causally arisen, but because the causes are sometimes obscured from our knowledge, those events may appear to be miraculous. However, any sense of perplexity or wonder soon disappears once the cause of such events is understood. The word 'supernatural' is simply a contrivance of language referring to that which exceeds our current understanding, but in fact there is nothing that is truly 'supernatural.'
The same applies to our relationship with nature. The manner of speech which describes human beings as separate from nature, or as controlling nature, is simply a contrivance of language. Human beings are part of nature, not separate from it. To say that we control nature simply means that we become determinants within the cause and effect process. The human element contains mental factors, comprising intention, which are involved in the process of act and result together known as 'creation.' However, mankind is not capable of creating anything out of thin air, independently of the natural causes. Our so-called control of nature arises from our ability to recognize the factors required to produce a particular result, and knowing how to manipulate them.
There are two stages to this process. The first is knowledge, which leads to the second stage, becoming a catalyst for the other factors. Of these two stages, it is knowledge that is crucial. Through this knowing, man is able to utilize and take part in the cause and effect process. Only by interacting with and influencing things with wisdom can man be said to be 'controlling nature.' In this case, man's knowledge, abilities and actions become additional factors within the natural process.
This principle applies to both physical and mental phenomena. The statement, 'to benefit from nature is also to live in harmony with nature' is based on the reality of the interdependent nature of both physical and mental phenomena. We could equally say 'controlling the mental aspects of nature' or 'controlling the mind' and these would also be valid. Wisdom in regard to both physical and mental phenomena is essential in order to really benefit from nature.
A life of wisdom can be looked at from two perspectives: inwardly, it is characterized by serenity, cheerfulness, awareness and freedom. Experiencing an agreeable sensation, the mind is not intoxicated or deluded by it. When deprived of comforts, the mind is firm, unshaken and untroubled. Happiness and suffering are no longer invested into external objects.
The outer level is characterized by fluency, efficiency, flexibility and freedom from cumbersome complexes and delusions.
Here is a teaching from the Buddha which illustrates the differences between the life lived with clinging and the life of wisdom:
"The unlearned, unenlightened being (puthujjana), monks, experiences pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings and neutral feelings. The learned, noble disciple also experiences pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings and neutral feelings. In this case, monks, what is the distinction, the contrast, the disparity between the learned, noble disciple and the unlearned, unenlightened being?
"When an unlearned, unenlightened being, monks, encounters unpleasant feeling, he grieves, laments, wails, beats his chest and is distraught and distracted therein: he experiences two kinds of feeling, namely, in the body and in the mind.
"It is as if an archer, having fired one arrow into a certain man, were then to fire a second arrow. That man would experience pain from both arrows. Such is the unlearned, unenlightened being. He experiences two kinds of pain, bodily and mental.
"Moreover, in experiencing an unpleasant feeling he feels displeasure. Displeased over that unpleasant feeling, latent tendencies to aversion (patighanusaya) contingent on that unpleasant feeling are accumulated. Confronted with unpleasant feeling he seeks delight in sense pleasures. Why so? Because the unlearned, unenlightened being knows of no other way out of unpleasant feeling than to seek the distraction of sense pleasures. Delighting thus in sense pleasures, latent tendencies to lust (raganusaya) contingent on those pleasant feelings are accumulated. He does not know the origin, the cessation, the attraction, the liability and the release from those feelings as they really are. Not knowing these things as they really are, latent tendencies to delusion (avijjanusaya) contingent on neutral feelings are accumulated. Experiencing pleasant feeling he is bound to it, experiencing unpleasant feeling he is bound to that, and experiencing neutral feeling he is bound to that. Monks, thus is the unlearned, unenlightened being bound to birth, aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. He is, I say, bound by suffering.
"As for the learned, noble disciple, monks, experiencing unpleasant feeling he neither grieves, laments, wails nor beats his chest. He is not distressed. He experiences pain only in the body, not in the mind.
"Just as if an archer, having shot one arrow into a certain man, were then to shoot a second arrow, but miss the mark: in this case that man would experience pain only on account of the first arrow. Such is the learned, noble disciple. He experiences pain in the body, but not in the mind.
"Moreover, he experiences no displeasure on account of that unpleasant feeling. Not being displeased over that unpleasant feeling, latent tendencies to aversion contingent on that unpleasant feeling are not accumulated. Experiencing that unpleasant feeling he does not seek distraction in sense pleasures. Why not? Because the learned, noble disciple knows of a way out of unpleasant feelings other than distraction in sense pleasures. Not seeking distraction in sense pleasures, latent tendencies to lust contingent on pleasant feelings are not accumulated. He knows the origin, the cessation, the attraction, the liability and the release from feelings as they really are. Knowing these things as they really are, latent tendencies to delusion contingent on neutral feelings are not accumulated. Experiencing pleasant feeling he is not bound to it, experiencing unpleasant feeling he is not bound to that, experiencing neutral feeling he is not bound to that. Monks, thus is the noble, learned disciple, liberated from birth, aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. He is, I say, liberated from suffering.
"This, monks, is the distinction, the contrast, the disparity between the learned, noble disciple and the unlearned, unenlightened being." [S.IV.207-210]
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