This month we will be exploring the third link in the chain of dependent origination or dependent co-arising – Consciousness. We begin by recognizing that ignorance (or blindness/confusion) motivates our mental formations (or impulsive and intentional actions/habits) which in turn motivates consciousness. Basically the first two links are past causes influencing the present moment consciousness. This influence, however, is unrecognizable without mindfulness. It’s our practice of mindfulness that allows us to interrupt the habitual push of the past.
Consciousness is the connection between the two previous links and the 6 sense doors. There’s seeing consciousness, hearing consciousness, body (sensory) consciousness, tasting consciousness, smelling consciousness, and thinking consciousness. Each moment, one of these consciousnesses are triggered by the arising of ignorance and habit. Once triggered, the habit continues all the way through the remaining links to a result of some sort of suffering.
Try not to look at all this as good or bad. It’s just nature. The reason we practice with all this is to see and understand what is occurring. When we learn to see and understand what is occurring, we can begin to unravel it’s influence upon us and disrupt the conclusion of suffering that inevitably follows ignorance.
Another way to look at consciousness is like the coloring of our habits. It is the mind, and therefore, it shapes how we see the moment, the experience, the world. Consciousness works in tandem with our mental formations so what (or better yet, how) we experience any given moment is largely dependent upon the type of assumptions, beliefs, expectations and desires each of us brings into the moment. So we may all experience anger, but we don’t all experience anger in the same way.
This is another reason why it’s pointless to criticize oneself. Our consciousness is constantly moving from one sense door to another. Depending upon the coloring of the mind, there’s no telling what the mind sees, feels, hears, tastes, smells or thinks. Without mindfulness, our life is not based on what is actually happening, everything is based on what our minds believe is happening.
Gradually, we learn to use mindfulness to pay attention to where the mind has latched onto. We can begin to see the disconnect between what our minds are telling us and the reality of just the pain data coming into sense doors. This is called bare awareness. The more we practice with this bare awareness, the less trapped we become in believing whatever the mind says. This is why we learn to trust the somatic, felt sense of experience more than our thoughts about experience.