Sunday, August 15, 2010

Clinging to the skandhas

I have written this as an exam for myself. I had thought of the skandhas as a mental model and not applied them to ethics, ie the study of saving oneself (autosoteriology?!). Learning that attachment to them causes suffering, I set out to explore how. My answers are not necessarily as useful as they could be.

The five skandhas are (my choice of terms):
  • Substance, what is

  • Sensation, attraction or repulsion

  • Conception, the modelling as objects

  • Mental formation, our habits of thought

  • Consciousness, that which observes

Substance in the presence of Consciousness leads to Sensation, Conception and Mental Formation. They cause us suffering in correlation to our attachment to them, that is our participation in them. We can be free of this suffering by:
  • Recognising the impermanent, relative and composed nature of all substance (for Substance and Conception).

  • Recognising there is no inherent good or evil, appeal or repulsion, and appreciating all things for their roles.

  • Freeing ourselves from our preconceptions and seeing each moment anew.

  • Observing the full contingency of our consciousness on our experience.

Mostly this feels like a reflection on the three marks of existence as applied to our own minds. We free ourselves from attachment to the skandhas by fully internalising our appreciation of the marks, so that as the skandhas arise we appreciate them and let them go.

The last one is tricky for me. Consciousness-as-observer is impermanent (we sleep and die) but it feels unchanging. My best formulation of the emptiness of consciousness is that it is contingent on the other skandhas, it is an illusion conjured by their illusory existence. There is no observer, the sensation conception and formations simply arise. When they do not, when we are asleep, the observer appears to disappear - it was never there.

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