Suttas say attachment to one of the five aggregates leads to the Self delusion.
In the context of dependent origination saṅkhāra means volition and is closely related to cetanā (see e.g. SN 12.2, SN 12.38, SN 12.39, and SN 12.40). This is also the meaning of saṅkhāra in the five khandhas. In fact, this is by far the dominant meaning saṅkhāra in the suttas. If the context is unclear you can assume saṅkhāra refers to cetanā.
Avijjā is always present in ordinary people, those how are not noble ones. It ebbs and flows, but is never entirely absent. The strength of avijjā at any given moment will depend on the strength of the five hindrances. But even when the hindrances are completely absent, there will be a residue of avijjā, such as identifying some aspect of the five khandhas as a self.
Because avijjā is always present, you cannot act without the sense of self being involved at a deep level. Any act you do is tinged with satisfying this sense of self, either by making it happy or by ensuring its future existence (or sometimes its annihilation, but this still involves the sense of self). Every time you will something, every time you intend, you are making kamma, producing saṅkhāras. There may be times when the will is very weak or even entirely absent, but when it is present it invariably produces future results, it’s kamma.
In the case of the Buddha remembering his past lives, there was still the even deeper illusion of a self. Any intentions he had would still be tinged by that wrong understanding of reality. He would still be making kamma.
There is still choosing or willing, otherwise a fully awakened person would be completely immobile, but the intentions no longer create kamma. The intentions are no longer directed at one’s own future happiness or sustaining one’s sense of self. Rather the intentions are now largely functional, e.g. related to things such as eating. Or the intention is related to others, such as being motivated by compassion.
Oh! This is quite amazing!
You have actually answered another question that I have had difficulty in understanding. Your answer clarifies the need for:
Basically, that deeper illusion of self is dispelled with recollection.
Thank you for this new insight, Ajahn!
May I just tease out something further? Okay, then I will…
Sooo… this is specifically referring to the bodhisatta on the night of his Awakening? And he’s just remembered his past lives (minus the insight into anatta). Then as he sees how and why the patterns (!!) of one life lead to another (and later ones too)… (basically DO and causality!!)
This “True Knowledge” rather naturally flows on to the next…
He then realises the impact of ethics on all these lives and the relationship it has with an Unawakened and deluded consciousness which is thus energised by potent cravings. Thus comes the 2nd “True Knowledge” of kamma …
And then both these Knowledges naturally begin to unravel the secrets of his own being/mind and how inherently, he was made up of energies of craving spinning around a sentience which was blind to its own nature… Once this blindness is blown away by this deeply, profoundly, experiential experience…he got the third and final “True Knowledge”, of liberation - “Knowing” (the opposite of not knowing or avija) freed him and he knew he was freed; freed from the energies of craving, from stupidity about what he was as a sentient being and all future birth.
May I just say that I have a bit of common or garden variety piti sukha arising as I write this… I must say it’s very inspiring and deep bows to all for this beautiful conversation.
I would like to humbly ask for further input that may be considered helpful to what is, still, without a deep, and consistently deep, and regular enough practise, still merely reflective acceptance. Particularly if there is something I have missed or misunderstood.
With much metta and gratitude
EDIT: And it is this knowledge of DO - of what he is and what life is (lives are)… this is the insight into anatta…?? So the deep 1st True Knowledge, ultimately led to the realisation of anatta being embedded into the very fabric of the next 2 True Knowledges… Yes?
Funny, I got so carried away with the general beauty of the thing that I forgot to ask this question!!! Which is why I started typing this reply!!
I am asking because Ajahn Brahmali has mentioned how The Buddha saw his past lives but still hadn’t realised anatta… So seeking a bit of clarification to ensure I’ve got my head around this in accordance with what is generally considered to be Right View in the suttas
Bhanthe would you say there is subconscious self-ing going on?
Mettena kāyakammena… Mettena vacīkammena…Mettena manokammena… SuttaCentral
For brevity of discussion, I had omitted the other three realizations from DN33. Here are the four I listen to as I meditate:
Four things to be realized.
Cattāro sacchikaraṇīyā dhammā—
- Past lives are to be realized through recollection.
- The passing away and rebirth of sentient beings is to be realized through vision.
- The eight liberations are to be realized through direct meditative experience.
- The ending of defilements is to be realized through wisdom.
This list is a bit of a Mt. Everest to look at and tackle. The first one always gave me trouble, because I’d always scratched my head at why one would need to remember past lives. My wife reminded me last week that I’d already wished her a good morning. With such an absent mind, what need would I have of memories of past lives?
But there is very little wiggle room here in #1. So I’ve been patching my understanding of the first realization by avoiding the use of reincarnation and relying on experience with the past parts of my physical life. I am old enough to have accumulated a bit of those. However, I cannot explain other things in my experience except by acknowledging the effect of phenomena before my birth. I understand genetics and its span across generations, but is there a gene that would explain the happy recognition I feel at reading the suttas? I am less certain of that. I really did read MN1 for the first time this year. I really did laugh at “delight is the root of suffering”. So I joke with myself that I was a lazy monk in a past life, a monk who said, “yeah, I’ll tackle MN1 in my next life, maybe then I will understand it”
I therefore have a neutral feeling on the recollection of past lives and the only way out is knowledge and realization through practice. Ajahn Brahmali’s reply was quite the encouragement to follow that feeling.
And what is the suffering of ignorance of past lives?
We have to come BACK.
Many have developed these through meditation and it seems to deepen their practice.
Yes. Insight into dependent origination and insight into anattā are part of the same insight, that which happens at streamentry.
Right. The first knowledge (vijjā) is seeing the depth of saṃsāric suffering. This enables you to turn away from desire for existence, despite the sense of self, which pulls you in the opposite direction. The second knowledge then shows you the mechanism that drives the rebirth process, which is kamma. I think it is here that the impersonal nature of the process starts to become very apparent. If you were in charge of your own destiny, you would never allow yourself to reborn anywhere except in the most rarefied planes of existence. So you start to see that kamma is an impersonal process, driven by causes and conditions, but not really under your control. This then sets the stage for your ability to realise the third knowledge, the end of suffering and the full and final insight into anattā. And you too become one of the arahants in the world! (We need an arahant emoji!)
I am not sure if it is really sub-conscious. The problem, rather, is that we do not fully understand our present experience. Take the hindrances. Sometimes the mind may feel quite purified; you cannot see any hindrances. Nevertheless your meditation is stuck at a certain level. You then need to investigate why you are stuck. Often you will uncover attachments, especially to the body and the five senses, that you didn’t really notice before. It’s not that those attachments weren’t always there; it’s just that you didn’t have the ability to see it.
It’s much the same with non-self, except it’s even harder to see. We don’t fully know how the sense of self expresses itself in our ordinary experience and so we are unable to see it. But as your meditation deepens, deeper and deeper layers of the sense of self are peeled off, until all that remains is a very refined expression of it, such as that found in the jhānas. It is then possible to make that leap to a full understanding of it.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
Or as Ajahn Brahm says: Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!
May it be so!!!
Yes!!! Much agreement!
Sadhu. Clear reply!
What is occurring now in the DO all the time is the working of the sense doors:
On one occasion the Venerable Ānanda and the Venerable Udayī were dwelling at Kosambī in Ghosita’s Park. Then, in the evening, the Venerable Udayī emerged from seclusion and approached the Venerable Ānanda. He exchanged greetings with the Venerable Ānanda and, when they had concluded their greetings and cordial talk, he sat down to one side and said to him: “Friend Ānanda, in many ways the nature of this body has been declared, disclosed, and revealed by the Blessed One thus: ‘For such a reason this body is anatta.’ Is it possible to explain the nature of this consciousness in a similar way—to teach, proclaim, establish, disclose, analyse, and elucidate it thus: ‘For such a reason this consciousness is anatta’?”
“It is possible, friend Udayī. Doesn’t eye-consciousness arise in dependence on the eye and forms?”
“If the cause and condition for the arising of eye-consciousness would cease completely and totally without remainder, could eye-consciousness be discerned?”
“In this way, friend, this has been declared, disclosed, and revealed by the Blessed One thus: ‘For such a reason this consciousness is anatta.’
Watch without concepts/defilements (self, ontological reality, permanency, delighting in), with equanimity.
At this step if the stimulus is identified this shows the arising of aggregate of perception.
If intentions occur it is the aggregate of fabrications; if feelings are present pleasurable, unpleasant or neutral it is the arising of the aggregate of feeling. These can be seen to arise and pass. These arise because the stimuli gave rise to these, via contact (phassa). Sometimes contact (phassa) is seen to arise without any of these aggregates following it due to the suppression effects of samadhi.
With mindfulness giving rise to samadhi and when we focus on what happens in the gaps of sound and sight, sight and sensation, etc more detail becomes apparent:
A movement of focus is felt before the next sound or sight arises that is the aggregate that gives rise to phassa. This is departure of traditional vipassana and EBT based vipassana as in the latter the arising of this movement of the mind suggests that it the arising of consciousness at a particular sense door. There is no method to purely detect consciousness apart from this method without being intermixed with the other aggregates.
This has been practically tested!
Consciousness—> Contact —> feelings; perception; fabrications, as per the Cacakkha sutta MN148
Thanks for sutta reference as well as the personal experience on the focus shift. I hadn’t thought to look for the change in focus and was a bit confused on how to find what happens before contact/phassa. I shall try this!
Basically awareness must shift from the current hearing to the being aware of sensations from the eye, at the eye sense base. This is automatic and not intentional and it can be felt to move. It requires sitting down to be mindful of it as it is very subtle.
I had been trying to attend to the rise and fall per the Buddha’s instruction. Your advice is equivalent but much easier to follow. Instead of thinking “is it rising?” or “is it falling?”, it is sooooo much easier to simply be aware of change. THAT was quite helpful. Many many thanks! It does indeed work better, especially for walking meditation.
What do you mean ‘change’?
Change in focus.
When I walk meditation, I walk listening to DN33 and always on the same path. When I start this, I lose track of where I am on the street and in DN33. Basically I daydream. After about 5 minutes, clarity emerges and I actually am aware of the words of DN33. I used to try and understand the words and the implications. Now I simply hear the sound patterns of recitation. I used to anticipate the next sound as an aid to memorization, but now I just “connect with the sound”. Interestingly, the words are still understood somehow in mindfulness and sometimes insight bubbles up. It is interesting because I don’t have to “chew on the words”. The words are heard mindfully without grasping yet they still sink in. So I focus on that present awareness of a familiar yet changing sense field experience. And every now and then my mind takes a detour, “Oh what shall I make for lunch?”
That detour is a change in focus. Becoming aware of it, it relaxes and awareness resumes. Your recommendation is much easier than wondering if a thought is arising. What is felt instead is a wandering, a narrowing, a grasping.
It’s a bit like shifting the eye from near to far. There is a momentary tension then a resolution, a change in focus.
I’m talking about being aware while sitting unmoved: like watching sounds manifesting then sights appearing: then thoughts manifesting. A sound might begin, and fade. Similarly other senses would function moment by moment. We mustn’t be too involved if we want to observe it’s natural rhythm. We sit and just watch stimuli arising and passing away!
Yes. I understand. I am adapting your advice to walking meditation. It is harder because in sitting meditation there is a stillness. In walking meditation there is always change, so the stillness of sitting is hard to find. But by being very careful about walking in the same way on the same path I have found the same stillness as sitting meditation. That stillness has emerged only after months of walking exactly the same path in the same way rain or shine, hot or cold. Before this year, I had thought that meditation was only sitting. However, the suttas mention more than just sitting. I have been working hard to bring my walking meditation to the same level as my sitting meditation. Fortunately, my practice of meditating while climbing has helped a lot. When I climb, it is immersive. My breath deepens and slows. People joke that I am the slowest climber on earth. Walking has become that as well. I am the slowest walker on earth. I am regularly lapped by this nice old lady zooming by on her walker.