Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Buddhist Unconscious

The Buddha offered an understanding of the actions that perpetuate the repetitive behavioural patterns called "samsara" that differed from contemporaneous Indian yogic traditions in several key respects. In the Buddhist view, what keeps beings trapped in these cyclic patterns is both the deep-seated but mistaken apprehension that we are (or have) an unchanging, independent, self-subsistent entity or "self" ("atman"), as well as the misguided activities motivated by attachment to such a self. Sentient beings are thought to consist of aggregations of ever-evolving physiological and psychological processes which arise and persist only as long as the causes and conditions that sustain them persist. Chief amongst these sustaining conditions are, paradoxically, the very ignorance of these basic facts of life, and the futile desires and activities to deny or overcome them through attempting to grasp onto something permanent.

Buddhist thought thoroughly critiques our attempts to attain permanence, independence and self-subsistence by identifying with transient, conditioned phenomena, whether material, psychological or conceptual. We impute intrinsic meaning and value onto these phenomena and imagine that their possession somehow augments our essential worth or well-being. These things possess a symbolic value above and beyond their physical existence. Enthralled by these enduring yet abstract objects, we create a life-world of seemingly solid, yet unavoidably mediated 'things'. Man, the symbol-making creature, constructs a world of his own in which to make his home.

But this is only half the picture. We also build up an image and an idea, a deep-seated attachment to, an equally symbolic sense of "self" which can experience and enjoy these apparently independent objects. We imaginatively create a locus of subjective experence, an enduring referent to the notions of self and "I" with which we can identify and hold as our own. Our entire world of experience is experienced in reference to this self-wrought "self", Man, the "self-making" creature, constructs the subject of his own experience which may dwell within his self-constructed home.

William Waldon, The Buddhist Unconscious - The alaya-vijnana in the context of Indian Buddhist thought

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Also see: Understanding our Mind by Thich Nhat Hanh@Amazon

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Picture by rgilcreasedatabrokers@Flickr

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