Now, many Buddhists may do their meditations on the elements, they may meditate on earth element and they realise: The earth element is not my self because the earth element is something that I come up against, I bump into it, so it must be different from me. They meditate on the water element, the air element, the fire element in a similar way. And even the space element: yes, here I am in space but if I’m in it, I’m not it or it is not me. So, this “This-is-not- me, this-is-not-mine, this-is- not-myself”-formula, which the Buddha gave us, is very useful and is a fact of experience.
But then we may fall back on the idea that, well in that case my self must be my consciousness. It seems in a way that this is the only thing that is left. But here again, we run into a problem. Consciousness is always consciousness of something. I might be conscious of the person who is standing in front of me. I might be conscious of doing this podcast. Consciousness always has an object. And even with the development of the idea of the unconscious we hear that the unconscious is full of contents as well. So, even the unconscious has contents and therefore objects.
Now, in the Buddhist way of thinking, if something is dependent upon something that is not my self, then it’s not really my self. And if it’s something that I can’t do anything about, then it’s not really my self. The rock is not my self. Why? Because I can’t, by a mental effort, make the rock be something different from what it is. Can I do this with my consciousness? Well, it’s very questionable. To some degree, of course, we can manipulate the mind just as we can move the rock. But there are limits. I think we all have the experience that we wake up one day, we’re feeling very happy at breakfast time, later in the morning we have a conversation with Ms Jones or Mr Smith or whoever and then by lunch time we’re feeling thoroughly miserable. What do we do at this point? Well, to oversimplify, there are perhaps two typical reactions. One reaction is to think: What should I be thinking? How can I change this? How can I get rid of this horrible feeling? How can I substitute what I think I ought to be feeling and thinking? How can I correct what has “gone wrong” as we tend to think. This is one approach and this is the kind of common response of the ordinary person.
Or we can say: Oh, that is interesting. Miserable feeling has arisen in me. Let’s have a look at it. What is it? Where has it come from? “Hallo, Miserable Feeling, who are you? Where’re you from? Declare yourself!” and we examine the feeling that has arisen. By doing this, we may learn all sort of things that perhaps we had certain expectations of Ms Smith or Mr Jones and so on. We learn a great deal.
So, consciousness arising out of our control, teaches us things. It is a good spiritual friend that comes to teach us, to enlighten us, it is, as Dogen says, one of the Dharmas that come forth to enlighten us. And this, of course, is the Buddhist approach, the Buddhist attitude: to stop and look as objectively as we can at what has actually arisen. “I see that misery has arisen. I see that misery is persisting” and to understand it, to have an empathic understanding for the consciousness that has arisen within us. In this way we realise that the consciousness is something other than self. It is something that we can examine in the same way that we can examine the rock.
This is the element of consciousness in a Buddhist perspective.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much