Monday, May 29, 2006

Abhidhamma and Consciousness

In the Summer 2006 issue of Buddhadharma magazine, there's an article by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled The Four Layers of Consciousness. His premise is that an understanding of consciousness is vital to our practice. I think he's right. I know for me, what causes me problems is when I lose my center, when I get absorbed in my thoughts and feelings and actions, and don't maintain mindfulness of what is arising and functioning in my mind. It's like falling asleep on a raft in a lake. You wake up and realize that you've been pulled far down shore.

Abhidhamma, the Buddhist map of the mind, says that the 52 mental factors can arise in our Mind Consciousness, which is like our conscious, thinking mind. Yep! This is exactly what we work to control, and how we exert our control. But we're just treating the symptom if we don't understand that our Store Consciousness, which is like the psychologist's unconscious mind, contains the seeds of all these mental formations. It contains the seeds of our anger responses as well as the seeds of our love and compassion. This understanding gives us our motivation! We know that if we keep planting wholesome seeds, and avoid planting unwholesome seeds, we can eradicate the unwholesome seeds altogether. That is the Buddha's ultimate optimistic teaching. I know that, for me, before I understood these concepts, it was like I was just going through the motions in my practice. Having a map that describes the territory is really important to me; it gives me structure. Is that the same for everyone?