The term ego does not occur in Buddhist texts but it is a useful shorthand for many Buddhist ideas. What does occur is the notion of the skandhas. These are rupa (riveting or iconic appearance), vedana (response thereto), samjna (the resulting trance or stereotyped pattern of body, speech and mind), samskara (the personal constructs that make sense of such behaviour), and vijnana (the resulting unconscious mentality that conditions intention and attention). These constitute a cycle, since it is our intentions and the resulting bias of attention that make things into rupas for us. Here I want to say a few things relating the skandha a little to the Personal Construct Theory of Kelly and also to the philosophy of the Italian Renaissance Christian philosopher Vico

To a substantial degree vedana is the ego. It is the reaction to be personally for or against something on the basis of what one thinks one knows and it is thus the way that we put a personal spin on experience and, at the same time, guide ourselves into known psychological pathways that carry familiar emotional colouring. In this way, although the process is mostly automatic, it is as though we seek to hold onto a constant world of relative certainties. We make ourselves the measure of things and to that extent, play at being God. We are God of our own fantasy world. We ‘know’ it because we create it. It is not the real world, but the world restructured so as to keep ourselves within our own comfort zone.

The word vedana literally means knowingness. Veda is knowledge. Vico asserted that one only fully knows anything by making it oneself. Thus the real world, made, as he saw it, by God, is only known by God alone because He made it whereas we can only know the worlds that we make which are, in fact, phantasy. We cannot do without them, but we can relativise them by knowing that they are phantasy and that the real world is only known to God. Thus we can know that we do not know. Going back to Buddhism, we can say that a Buddha is somebody who knows this absolutely. A Buddha is thus somebody who has awakened to the glorious mystery of the Morning Star rising in the east. The world is a precious treasure rather than grist to one's personal mill.

Thus, a Buddha is filled with awe. He or she has equanimity because they are relieved of the responsibility of creating a perfect ‘map’. We make ‘maps’ of the world from observation. We observe what God has created and we try to understand it by examination. We do experiments all the time in order to test our understanding. We provoke life in order to get feedback and with this we seek to verify our map. In this way we generate and maintain ‘personal constructs’ (samskaras) and the work of the psychologist Kelly throws a great deal of light on this process.

There is also a second level. What we are most interested in is, in most cases, how we and other people function. Since so many of our dealings are with other people there is a great utility for us in having them accurately mapped. However, to understand another person substantially means to understand the way that they make their maps. If we understand their samskaras, then we understand them and insofar as theirs parallel ours we feel in sympathy and we get along easily with them. However, it is apparent that the samskaras of the other are not ‘God made’ but are the creations of that other person. Of course, these are maps of the God-made world, but at some remove. Much of the mapping by the other person is also mapping of the mappings of yet other people. Thus in the social world our ideas can be many removes from the God-made world, which is to say, from reality. This is the process of formation of a culture.

So culture is the vedana of a whole society or collective of people. It entails conventional routines (samjna) and shared constructs (samskaras) but the final outcome is a form of collective unconsciousness (vijnana), not in the Jungian sense of a deeper instinctive wisdom, but in that of collective blindness. This is the background to the kind of crowd or mob psychology that, in the extreme, carries people away into feuds, wars, persecutions and witch hunts.

Awakening, therefore, is decisively not a matter of having ‘the right map’. It is rather a matter of seeing through the map making process, realising that we need our maps but knowing that the map is not the territory. Insofar as we realise this, we then can hold our maps lightly, not be phased by encountering different maps, be interested rather than shocked when things do not go according to expectation, and, generally, experience wonderment at the glory of it all. This is a stance of humility. Realising that one cannot know ‘as God knows’ is a huge relief. It lets one off the painful hook that one has been impaled upon. It opens a vast panorama of possibilities. It takes away the imperative to get everything right yet frees up a vast resource of energy for investigation of life as it occurs. When one’s vedana is light, one’s burden is not heavy.

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  • Yes, he is quite good at that. This is a problem of democracy in a mass media age - it can easily become a kind of blind stampede. We are facing several elections in Europe in the coming year and the Trump victory is giving momentum to some dubious options over here.

  • It seems that Trump has very cleverly used the Skandhas to achieve his own ends. During the campaign he repeatedly presented carefully chosen rupas, to trigger particular vedana and samjna reactions amongst the people. Then these people got together with others carrying those similar constructs (samskaras) and ultimately this lead to a vijnana collective unconsciousness in which 60 million plus people voted for him to be President of the USA. So now that he is President how will he manipulate the populace next ? what will he do to get us to think and feel a certain way ?

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