Q & A
At Dipabhāvan Meditation Center, August 9, 2018.
Question. How can Buddha have been sure that consciousness exists outside of the mind and that it is not just an effect (epiphenomena) of the physical/material process of synapses firing a thought in the brain?
Answer. Apparently, Buddha paid no attention about to where the mind is exactly located nor to how the brain is operating. Actually, we don't know very much about it by now. Maybe we should not know it at all. Maybe the brain is just as a receiver, capable to connect with something what we don't know. Maybe the consciousness is a field or certain environment in which the brain can operate, can create something what we call 'mind' or 'thoughts' or 'ego' or 'self'. Maybe it's impossible to find out where is the 'mind' in the brain, just like it's impossible to find out where is the music in the radio or CD. Maybe we are just particles, a pieces in much a larger world, who knows.
Question. If 'I' or 'my' are just concepts, then who/what is creating the right thought intention and action — can you explain the Buddhist understanding of free will and personal agency in relation to this?
Answer. The free will is another quite difficult and hardly explainable problem like consciousness. In Buddhism however there is a concept of 'dependant origination', in Pali 'paṭiccasamuppāda', which is quite close with the idea and concept of free well, too. Usually it is described with a wheel, divided into 12 sections. Each of them leads inevitable to the next one and in general, creates suffering, caused by ignorance. By breaking the chain, liberation from suffering can be attained.
Question. If the Self is not thoughts, memories or emotions, and consciousness is an environmental field as opposed to a thing having to do identify, how can we best understand how to conceive of the self in practical terms?
Answer. The Self consists of thoughts, memories, emotions etc, and we can say that our self actually is a persistent complex of our thoughts, memories, emotions, etc. In our mind there are floating, drifting, unsettled thoughts, ideas, feelings etc which are not very persistent and are caused mainly by randomly occurring conditions. The Self holds more permanent ideas and thoughts, including our self-esteem, honour, dignity, our principles, our views, assessments, etc. The both, the short-term and the long-term ideas and thoughts are fluctuating, changing endlessly in the mind.
However, we take them like something real and permanent, and therefore we call it 'self'. Sure, on certain level of understanding it is real, as we are acting according to it, our thoughts, memories and emotions are moving and driving us, sometimes even rule us, control us. And that all is very real indeed.
The right understanding is coming when we see that all the movements in our mind are just fluctuations, caused by various conditions. There is no need to try to control our thoughts and emotions, because this trying is just another thought, just another fluctuation in mind.
The real aim, the real purpose of our meditational practice is not to control our thoughts but to be free from their control. To step back, to be in silence, to let the mind calm down.
And yes, consciousness is a field, the environment in which the mind operates.
Question. If someone's intent is right, does that automatically mean their action is right? Can one (intent & action) be right while the other is not?
Answer. Yes, on the surface of understanding it is possible that intentions seem to be right, but the following consequences appear to be not just right. For example, some dictator or tyrant may had quite right intentions, but the result of his actions means thousands of killings and sufferings.
Indeed, the actions, the results of an action, the consequences of doings, are good indicators of intention's rightfulness. If the result seems right, then apparently the intentions were rightful, although initially they maybe not seemed to be very rightful and good. If there is no deeper understanding, then it all seems to be quite confusing.
On the surface of understanding, with the limited view, there is actually no way to be completely and absolutely honest, rightful, good. And from this confusion arise all the ethical dilemmas and paradoxes: How can God be good if there is so much evil in the world? Is lying an option when a murderer is asking directions to find his victim?
We cannot give an assessment of everything, to all sorts, to a whole. In the universe, in nature, in the world, there is no good or evil, precious or harmful, beautiful or ugly. These are all our estimates based on some limited view.
If we already expect and presume that in this world we may confront with murderer, what kind of morality or ethics we could then ask anymore?
Question. With anatta (non-self) I understand that I'm not neither my physical body, my emotions nor my thoughts. If we are all in anatta, does it means we are all One? Are we reaching Oneness? Are we one and the same with the Universe?
Answer. Yes, that's right. Apparently we all are connected, and in the deepest level of understanding, all is one.
Question. I am realizing that many Pali words are similar to Sanskrit. Sometimes the meaning is quite the same and sometimes not. - Is there a correlation between Anatta (non-self) and Anahata (Heart Chakra)? - What about the meaning of Samadhi?
Answer. Yes, Pali and Sanskrit languages are related and quite similar to each other. -
'Anatta' in Pali is correlated with 'Anātman' in Sanskrit and it means non-self or non-soul. The Sanskrit word 'Anahata' is not correlated with these words and yes, it is the name of Heart Chakra and it means sound without touching two parts together, word-by-word 'unhurt', 'unstuck', 'unbeat'. -
'Samadhi' refers usually to a meditative state of consciousness. The word 'samadhi' is rooted from Sanskrit, but the exact original meaning is unclear. In various traditions the word 'samadhi' may be in use in different connotations. But in general, it refers to a certain state of consciousness, which is reachable through meditation practice or by other means.
The common states of consciousness are our everyday normal awareness, and sleeping and dreaming, while we are not aware of ourselves. During the dreamless sleep there is no mental movements in the mind, while dreaming, the mind is active and restless.
In our normal everyday state of consciousness we are aware about ourselves and at the same time our mind is active, in motion, there appear thoughts, ideas, fears, dreams etc, as we know precisely. Is it possible to keep awareness without such movements in mind? Can we have a state of consciousness like in dreamless sleep, but yet being aware?
The different spiritual practices, various religious traditions say: yes, we can. And that state of consciousness is colloquially called 'samadhi'.
Question. A situation in the past hurted me. That has created feelings of anger and sadness and they are real today. If I choose to ignore them, they are there and they will be. How to dissolve them? How to face them and learn to let go?
Answer. The best remedy is time, indeed. Nothing is permanent, everything changes. The strong feelings like anger and deep sadness will not disappear easily, that's true. But it's true also, that nothing will persist and stay forever.
If you are sitting and trying to ignore, or you just want them to go away, then you actually feed them, giving them more power, with your thoughts and feelings. The situation what hurted you, was in the past. You can not change it. Anyway, it's over. It doesn't exist anymore in any reality. Maybe it exists still only in your mind.
The most important thing to reconsider now, is that you are changing, too. You are not the same person who once suffered. It's not 'you' anymore. You are already moved away from it. So, who is sad and feel anger here and now? Why to be sad and feel anger, still trying to be a person who is not here anymore, who is gone already?
Nothing is permanent and everything changes. Even your person changes permanently. That is, why it's right not to take anything personally.
As it's said in the book:
All moods, all things, all people, all changes and events are temporary, they come and go, they never offer full satisfaction and they don’t belong to you or to anyone else.
Events and circumstances just happen, come together, come up, and there’s no way we can control them. However, we can control how we adopt them, how they affect us.